Ionna Hernandez is double majoring in communication studies and international relations. She is originally from Panama, but was raised in South Florida. She speaks both Spanish and English fluently, can speak French conversationally and is currently learning Arabic. Her favorite quote is “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely in these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime,” written by Mark Twain in “Innocents Abroad.”
Ever since I was a little girl I dreamt of traveling the world. I dreamt of hiking the Great Wall in China, seeing the Taj Mahal in India, trying on a Kimono in Japan, and hiking to the top of Table Mountain in South Africa.
I thought maybe one day, if I won the lotto I would get to do all these things, or maybe I would eventually save up enough money to visit one or two of these places. Only in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would have the opportunity to visit all of these places and many others in one trip.
I not only did, but I also earned college credits while traveling the world. My dreams became a reality last semester when I studied abroad and embarked on the journey of a lifetime aboard the M/V “Explorer” as a student on the 107th voyage of Semester at Sea.
Our voyage circumnavigated the globe in 111 days making stops in 14 different countries and traversing the Panama Canal. The ship departed on Aug. 26, 2011 from Montreal, Canada and the voyage ended 3 1/2 months later in my hometown of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. In between, we made stops in Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica, transited the Panama Canal, and, finally, the Bay Islands of Honduras.
Although the itinerary itself is impressive, it wasn’t seeing the Taj Mahal, or hiking the Great Wall or taking a picture at the top of Table Mountain that made this the experience of a lifetime. While those things were great and exciting it was the people I met along the way, the circumstances we all shared and the realities of what the world is really like that left the deepest impressions. It was experiencing things about other cultures first hand that no textbook, movie, documentary or 5 o’clock news cast could ever convey accurately.
The energy, the sadness, the smells of tragic places, like the slave castles in Ghana, and the brightness, resilience and love of others, like the nation of Vietnam are things I will always remember. It was visiting the gender equality division of South African parliament and learning about their causes and struggles. It was discussing the “one child” policy in China over dinner with a Chinese college student. It was having a group of elderly Muslim men give up one of their beds so I had somewhere to sleep on an overnight train in India. And it was playing soccer in the rain with a group of boys at a children’s home in Honduras that made this the experience of a lifetime.
This wasn’t just some cruise around the world where I collected stamps in my passport. Semester at Sea was the voyage of a lifetime. It was a voyage into personal growth, global awareness and learning the true meaning of becoming a global citizen. Semester at Sea was the best thing that has happened to me and I only wish that one day you can all experience it for yourselves.