Around the world in 103 days

June 15, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Kelly Pannill said her reasons for wanting to experience a Semester at Sea were "corny."

"I wanted to see other cultures and expand my horizons," she said.

Along with 630 other students - including Lewis Rawlings of Hagerstown and Barbara Spoonire of Williamsport - the 21-year-old Shepherd University senior cruised around the world.

There's nothing corny about the ways they have changed.

The ship left Nassau, Bahamas, in January.

It stopped in nine ports before docking in Seattle more than 100 days later. Students experienced Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

A 25-member faculty taught a variety of classes on board - every day. No weekends off. Courses included the required 9 a.m. daily Global Studies, a class that prepared students for their visits to each country. They had a lot of leeway in selecting other courses. Every class had some field component - projects or assignments related to the international visits.


Various off-ship experiences were available - some with groups from the ship, some done independently.

Pannill went sky diving in South Africa and visited Cambodia and the Great Wall of China.

Spoonire, 21, who graduated with a degree in economics and a citation in French last month from the University of Maryland, visited the Cuchi tunnels - the underground city on the outskirts of the former Ho Chi Minh City - now Saigon - in Vietnam.

Cuba was the first stop. Cuban President Fidel Castro spoke to the Semester at Sea group for four and a half hours - without a break, without stopping for a drink of water, Rawlings said.

The Cuban people were warm and welcoming, Spoonire said. But many also are heavily opinionated in politics.

"I didn't know how to feel about anything in Cuba," Pannill said. "It was crazy."

The people could be brainwashed, but we could be brainwashed, too, she added.

"It makes you question," Rawlings said.

Pannill compared the South African port of Cape Town to Baltimore's Inner Harbor - bright, clean, modern. She and Spoonire saw the other side of the country in three rural townships where they participated in service visits. They helped weigh babies and children - part of an Operation Hunger effort. Pannill and Spoonire weren't just tourists, Pannill said.

"We were helping," Spoonire said.

Rawlings returned to the ship after 10 minutes in India. There were a million people, a million cars, the air is full of smog.

"You can see the particulates," he said.

But his first impression didn't last. "I really, really liked India," he said. It's such a different culture, the people are so nice. "Everyone was so alive," he said.

Rawlings participated in a service visit in India, building a wall in a "Dalit" - the untouchable lowest caste - community.

The students laughed sharing memories of karaoke in Japan, wasabi at McDonald's restaurants, long, hot lifeboat drills, having to pay 50 cents per minute to use the Internet and surviving crossing several times zones and Pacific storms.

They had a lot of fun during their semester at sea, and horizons definitely have expanded.

"I think more people should study abroad," Pannill said.

Rawlings awakened to how much we waste - packaging, for example - without even thinking about it.

In some of the countries the Semester at Sea group visited, there was no sign of shelter for homeless people, Spoonire said. She compared what she learned in one class, in one semester - to all she learned in four years of college.

Pannill said she thinks they haven't been back long enough to process everything they experienced.

"It's really overwhelming," Spoonire said.

Rawlings is thinking about it at night.

"I have dreams every single night about the trip," he said.

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