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Open Letter

Dear Future Voyagers of Semester at Sea,


            Traveling around the world and seeing so many cultures in such a limited time has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.  I signed up for this voyage believing I would go out and experience the world first hand and come back having learned and assimilated into each and every society we visited.  As an anthropology major I should have known that this was unreasonable.  You can’t comprehend an entire culture in the five days that you are staying in a country.  While doing multisited ethnographic research I was overwhelmed with both the differences and similarities between cultures.  I would recommend trying to approach this voyage with no expectations.  As an Indian woman wisely told me “Expectation reduces joy.”  Don’t assume that you will easily assimilate no matter how culturally wise you may consider yourself, because it may not even be you that keeps you labeled as the outsider. 

When trying to come up with a multisited theme for my comparative ethnography project, I found it took a while to discover what I was interested in.  I found that a theme eventually presented itself in one of my individual country ethnographies.  Deciding on a topic too early can limit your perspective while in port.  My advice is to wait until after a few ports before choosing.  While doing fieldwork, don't expect to be able to instantaneously observe from the viewpoint of the culture.  It may be the locals that keep you at a distance and it can be difficult to break that barrier.  On the other hand, you can’t take a pessimistic attitude while traveling in port.  Take risks.  That is where the most memorable experiences come from.  Even if it is a horrible experience they are usually the best stories to share when you get back home.  Besides having no expectations, my other piece of advice is to constantly remind yourself of where you are.  No matter how sick or tired or grumpy from your travels, if you remind yourself of what you are doing and what you are seeing you will begin to love your pains as an integral part of your experience.

Safe Sailing!

Jessica Von Wendel

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