William & Mary is lucky to have study abroad alumni who can’t wait to share their stories and experiences. Every so often you’ll be treated to a guest post by one of these talented writers right here at International W&M. Today as you head back to class, consider what it might be like to take courses with Semester at Sea. Elizabeth Tompkins ’13 did just that last spring!
March 24, 2011
The water off the coast of Viet Nam is jade green. We can see the green hills gradually turning blue until they blend into the sky and disappear behind us. We’re now en route to China. Our first stop is Hong Kong, and we’ll be there the day after tomorrow. I can’t believe there are only two countries left. I need to process that…
The Caribbean islands were a basic introduction to orienting oneself in a new place, but there wasn’t any culture shock there. Brazil gave me my first taste of being surrounded by a foreign language, and visiting both the Amazon—the wildest part of the planet—and Rio de Janeiro—a stunning but dangerous city—allowed me to create a well-rounded sense of adventure. That was a thrilling country, one I would love to return to.
The Atlantic crossing was miserable. I was seasick and couldn’t wait to see land again, but by the time we reached Africa I had found my sea-legs. Ghana was intense, keeping me on my toes constantly. There was poverty, but the country as a whole conveyed a great deal of hope for the future. After Ghana, South Africa was too familiar, but that was where I chose to do my only homestay for this trip. Spending two days in Cape Town township was more enlightening about poverty and the scars of colonialism in Africa than our entire time in Ghana. It was hard to determine what lies ahead for South Africa.
Mauritius was a transition country, providing us with a touristy European vibe while being surrounded by the majority Indian population. We were able to glimpse Hinduism, and to say farewell to Africa as we moved deeper into the Indian Ocean.
India was a jolt to the senses. It was the most intense place I’ve ever experienced, and while there I felt farther from home than ever before. It was strange going from there to Singapore, which is so organized and modernized that it seems to trump even the United States.
Vietnam was beautiful, exotic, yet also felt comfortably local. I finally got my chance to stroll and take in a place on my own, and I was able to learn a lot more than I would have expected from simply exploring independently. Combined with Cambodia, it gave me a taste of how recent regimes—the Khmer Rouge and the communist Vietnamese government—are continuing to impact the populations of these countries today. It was a great setup for our next stop: China. I’ve been looking forward to China for so long! I can’t wait to be there—I have more of an idea of what to expect there than I’ve had for most of the other countries, but I’m finding that makes me even more excited for the moment we arrive!
Elizabeth Tompkins ’13 is a double major in Psychology and Literary & Cultural Studies. She circumnavigated the globe with Semester at Sea in spring 2011, crossing the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, visiting countries in South America, Africa, and Asia, and learning about the global community while experiencing it firsthand. To read more about her travels, visit her blog Circumnavigation 101.