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Open Letter

By Suzanne Schefcik

“Four days,” my roommate Maddy says to me. Where has all the time gone? The last three months have flown by so quickly, leaving me confused, excited and sad. The feelings about this trip, home and me have changed drastically throughout the entire voyage. As I reflect, I recognize the amazing things I have done in the past three months. I went skydiving in Hawaii, spelunking in China, crawled the Cu Chi tunnels of Vietnam, fed a family in Cambodia, rode elephants in Burma, visited the Taj Mahal in India, rode camels around the pyramids in Egypt, climbed a mountain in Turkey and went wine tasting in Croatia. There’s so much more that I have left out, but I still can’t believe it is real. The overall goal for myself this semester was to step out of my boundaries and face my fears. I wasted no time and I started at our first port of call.

            It seems like yesterday that I trekked down the steep medal staircase of the gangway toward Hawaii, our first destination. The air smelled of sweet pineapple and I could feel the sunlight tanning my face. I really did not know anyone from the ship, but I had previously signed up to go skydiving with some random students. I am terrified of both planes and heights, so this was a major commitment for me. I truly did not think it would actually happen because our reservations got pushed back due to all the interest from other Semester at Sea (SAS) students. I roamed around with a girl who I had just met, Candice to kill time. We ventured throughout Honolulu and purchased Japanese Rail Passes for our next country. As we made our way back to the MV Explorer, we noticed our skydiving group was waiting for us. “This is it, no turning back,” I thought to myself as we hopped in a shuttle van.

            I started small talk with a few people in the van. The guy next to me, James, had similar interests in music as myself and also lived near my grandmother. We became friends quickly and later found out we were neighbors on the ship. Our van was mostly girls, who were all terrified of what was about to happen. It was definitely an experience that brought us all together. The entire hour and thirty minute drive my anticipation and uneasiness grew stronger.

            As we pulled up to the small building near Waikiki beach, we noticed people falling from the sky. I was nervous, but I had to face my fears and accomplish this feat for myself. We sat on small wooden benches and filled out forms describing what is to happen in case of fatalities. I was panicking. I tried to calm down by playing some cards with others and eating some hotdogs. Finally after six hours of waiting, I was assigned the last jump of the night, group 29.

            The four of us strapped in, learned quickly what we were supposed to do, and jumped on the golf cart that would bring us to the plane. As I watched the small propeller plane from across the field I prayed I’d make it out alive. My instructor Tim and I were closest to the thin plastic door, which remained open for a majority of the flight. Keep in mind, I wasn’t strapped in yet. The jumpers were all laughing as I panicked and screamed. “Ok, lean forward and crouch down under the doorway,” Tim said coolly.

            The next time I opened my eyes, I was rather discombobulated. I couldn’t tell the sky from the ocean and I was mortified. After flipping upside down a few times, I looked down with my mouth wide open and dry from screaming. Cumulus clouds filled with rainwater became our targets as we fell from the sky. The moisture gathered on my goggles and I could not see. BAM. Tim ripped off the goggle and pulled the shoot to the most amazing sight I have ever seen. The mountains were located just to my left, with the ocean and a sunset to my right. Coral reefs were visible through the clear turquoise water below. As we floated down the Earth I realized that SAS was just beginning and I was in for a crazy semester of adventures.

            Semester at Sea has been an unmatched learning experience for me. I learned how to push my own limits and face my fears in numerous ways. I feel I have grown as a person and I hope to take back with me so many amazing memories and images of the wonderful people, terrible poverty, beautiful surroundings, delicious food, astonishing artworks and so much more. This trip has made it apparent to me that I can do anything and go anywhere, if I push myself. I would not give up this semester for anything.

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