By Dennis Galletta
Fall, 1999 Semester at Sea
November 3, 1999
I want to go back.
I want to go back to India so that I can actually give something of myself.† In port, I comforted myself with the thought that I cannot help the starving and diseased millions, and that giving to beggars would make the problems worse, not better.† But even a smile, a touch, or a kind word would have been better than the motion-blurred view of my back that I gave to needy strangers.
I want to go back to Malaysia so that I can do even a tiny, insignificant something about the obvious and seemingly growing racism that divides the three peoples of Malaysia.
I want to go back to Viet Nam to have deeper conversations with newly-made friends.
I want to go back to China to talk to more university students, and spend more time in their tiny dorm rooms to know how, and why, they are thrilled to be in their filthy, crowded surroundings.
I want to go back to Japan to see the Bullet Train, Hiroshima, and Mount Fuji.† I even need to prove that I now know my way around Kobe well enough to find the Sushi bar and make it back from the Internet cafť with enough of a margin to avoid dock time this time.
Why do I have these regrets?† At first I thought it was because I focused too much on personal comfort, shopping, and, most of all, Internet cafes.† While these are indeed some of my errors, in the back of my mind I felt that the problems of the world are too large and the solutions would take a hundred lifetimes to solve.† So I really didnít try.
Last night I was moved by the stories by the ďopen micĒ participants.† Some expressed their happiness after giving some money, food, or clothing to beggars.† Some described their feelings of sorrow and helplessness as they passed the hungry people.† Some told of intense anger when fellow students selfishly complained about the unpleasant surroundings.† Some even privately confessed that they agreed with many of the complainers.
I realized last night that each of us is experiencing a dramatically different Semester at Sea.† While we share this external experience, and its opportunities, we all take different steps outside of our cocoons.† Some peek out from a tiny hole.† Others stick their entire heads out and gawk.† The more adventuresome break out and flap their wings among the flowers, becoming part of the landscape.† While the risks are higher for them, they are the ones who will most radically transform and be transformed by this experience.†
I hedged my risks, and therefore my opportunities, with a portable cocoon.
Think about the story of a butterfly flapping its wings and setting off a chain reaction, and imagine the chain reaction to be positive rather than negative.† But I realize that I only marginally fluttered a single wing at each port; my portable cocoon was too constraining.
Because I canít turn back the clock, Iíll just have to try harder at the remaining 5 ports.† Iíll try harder to give, to communicate, and to touch.† Hopefully, this time Iíll be less uncomfortable to go outside of my warm, familiar cocoon, and then Iíll flap some widely-spread wings.† Otherwise, as we land in Miami, I will have 10 ports full of regrets, not 5.† And one thing is certain:
I CANíT GO BACK!