Coronavirus, Reroutes, and Fear

As I am still finishing up organizing my photos and writing about Cambodia and Mauritius, I wanted to update you all with the the news we have had on the ship.

I have had difficulty finding time to post blog updates the past few weeks, as I have researched, planned, and booked activities and hotels, cancelled them, researched, planned and booked again, and cancelled those… this cycle has repeated so many times due to our numerous reroutes, and I am managing it all while still taking classes for school and writing several job and scholarship applications for back at home. It has been quite the time to study economics and international studies during this all! The stress and heartbreak of losing experiences in countries and losing money has been really difficult, but I am very thankful for the friendships and learning lessons and the opportunity to study abroad. I have loved my experience abroad, but it is unfortunate my life savings were put into a program that has been rerouted due to something out of the program’s hands. I mourn this loss while doing my best to remain optimistic and hopeful for travel in Europe, and praying for health to friends, family, and people across the world.

Like I said, we have had several reroutes. Our original itinerary of ports included Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and disembarking in the Netherlands. As of today, we have been to Hawaii, Japan, Vietnam (where I traveled to Cambodia) and Mauritius, and we are on our way to Cape Town, South Africa. A benefit of these reroutes is I have gotten entended travel days in countries I never would have experienced the way I did with extra time!

With our original itinerary above, this layout of our reroutes may be more clear….

1. China cancelled, Vietnam extended.

2. Malaysia and India cancelled, Seychelles added, Mauritius and South Africa extended.

3. Mauritius and South Africa extended further.

4. Seychelles cancelled, Mauritius cancelled, Mozambique added.

5. Mauritius added back.

6. Mozambique cancelled, Mauritius extended, South Africa extended.

7. Ghana and Morocco cancelled, Las Palmas (Spanish islands off Morocco) added for two days, the voyage ending 8 days early, disembarking on April 12th.

I was bummed out about not going to China, as it was the port I was most excited for and I was planning on hiking the Great Wall. As I explained in my last post, Henry was meeting me in Malaysia, and several students on the ship were most excited for India. The night before arriving in Seychelles, we were denied entry by their government for the fear of Coronavirus. A lot of students lost money here, as bookings were expensive on the honeymoon island, and the changes were so last-minute that most students had booked events right before our ship meeting. We then went to Mauritius which was amazing, and after over two weeks on the ship it was nice to be on land; swimming on beaches and hiking in mountains. On the morning of March 6th, we were notified about the cancellation of Ghana and Morocco.

Last night we had a meeting with the CEO of SAS, and we were informed the changes were made due to fear that Northern European countries such as The Netherlands would not let us into their country if we had been to Africa within two weeks, and that going from one European port to another was our best chance of not being quarantined. Some of the students at the meeting last night mentioned that this is likely influenced on perceptions of race and infrastructure (that African countries are not reporting cases), rather than fact-based information at play, that there are 485 cases in Spain (including some on the islands) and 187 in the Netherlands, 0 in Ghana and 2 in Morocco (Stats from Worldometer as of 6:10 GMT March 8th). I agree with these students. I am glad SAS has kept me safe from countries where it is rapidly spreading, but it is unfortunate that race perceptions and fear (likely from European governments) has turned us away from visiting other countries.

We have the option to get off in Las Palmas or the Netherlands, as our last day of school is April 3rd, the day before arrival in Las Palmas. I am still unsure what I want to do. My decision will vary on factors such as how the virus has continued to spread in Europe, quaratine situations in Europe and at home, and travel with friends. I know the outbreak is spreading in Washington, with UW and Eastern closing campuses. I pray that everyone at home is staying safe, and I am unsure when I’ll be coming home. Hoping for the best!

Xin Chào!

Xin Chào!! (Hello/Good morning in Vietnamese, pronounced “sin chao”)

After TWELVE DAYS in Southeastern Asia, I have many stories! Some good news and some bad news, but overall my 12 days in Vietnam and Cambodia were amazing; full of culture, cuisine, learning experiences, and adventure. I was with a cohort the whole time I was in Cambodia, February 12-14, and the other days between February 4-15 I was in Vietnam. I learned so much from Cambodia that I believe it deserves a second post – so stay tuned! But for now, here are my stories in Vietnam. 

Reasons I was excited for Vietnam included the pho, cheap and fashionable clothes, and the weather. Once we were notified about having 12 days in Vietnam due to China cancellation, I began to research, and realized Vietnam’s incredible landscape diversity and biodiversity. I also made sure to study up on my history of Vietnam before porting, as the Vietnam war and imperialism over the country has a big influence in Vietnamese society and politics today. Vietnam proved to be a country much more tourist friendly, activity-filled, and nature-scenic than I expected. The cities, beaches, and forests were all a pleasure, and there are so many places to visit. I recommend researching Vietnam if you are looking for future travel destination abroad (especially on a budget)!  

My first two days in Vietnam I spent touring Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Saigon. I went around the city trying new foods, buying the tourist elephant pants, visiting their famous yellow post office, the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace, Saigon Sky Deck, some temples within the town, and the bustling Bên Thành Market. 

My third day, I went with a group of friends to the Mekong Delta. This area was beautiful and the trip was a highlight of Vietnam! We got to bike, ride in boats and tuk-tuks through the jungle, eat lots of fruits and native protein sources, and try coconut candies that we watched be hand-made. Through food and exploration, our understanding of the tropical ecosystem was expanded, as we learned before porting in our global studies course that the factors of ecosystem and society are deeply intertwined in this region. The water level, soil nutrients, and climate all play roles into the success of food harvest, tourism, and survival in the communities. The Mekong Delta region is the 7th largest, hosting a population of 21 million. Sea level rise has threatened the future use of the sustainable food practices, shelter, and survival of the delta communities. 

After sometime in Southern Vietnam, I flew up to Da Nang with two friends and visited Hoi An for the lantern festival! We stayed at the nearby beach An Bang, and relaxed on the beach during the day and visited the cities at night. The lantern festival happens once a month, and was lovely to participate in. We had a boat ride along the water and let paper lanterns with lit candles into the water to make a wish. I enjoyed seeing so many decorative boats with happy locals, tourists, and plenty of members from Semester at Sea – the festival was quite a hit!! 

After two full days in the coastal area, we flew north to the capital city, Hanoi, where we stayed one night. The next morning we got picked up for a 2 day-overnight tour cruise of Ha Long Bay – one of the world’s seven natural wonders! On our boat tour, my two friends and I were with a group of 11 other tourists and 1 guide that led our group in English – but myself and my two friends were the only people with English as our first language! We enjoyed talking to the different couples and friend groups from other countries including Austria, India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. We had a lot of seafood, enjoyed a cooking class, tai chi lesson, and we got to kayak through an oyster pearl farm. I also caught a squid while fishing! (of course I put the baby squid back!) 

Our hikes with the tour were to Ti Top Island where you could get an elevated view of the bay. We also went to the (not very creatively named) Surprising Cave that had been formed from water intrusion into limestone, and continuously formed through the slow drips shaping calcium stalagmites. 

Once we were back in Hanoi, we got to see a water puppet show and go shopping. New, comfy and cheap grey adidas for me! The water puppet show illustrated Vietnam’s history with a variety of stories including French imperialism, family struggles on rice patties, and artistic representations of the four symbolic animals; the unicorn, turtle, phoenix and dragon. If you ever go to Vietnam, seeing this show is a must! 

We flew back to Ho Chi Minh City after the show, and the following day I went to the Cu Chi tunnels and Vietnam War Remnant Museum. I was so thankful for this day of history. I learned a lot through hands on experience at the tunnels, and we got to talk to a veteran from the war. A lot of our conversation as a group revolved around the importance of education, and reasons why it should not be forgotten in the US.

The museum exhibits were thought provoking to viewers of all nations. I read from media sources during the war about domestic and international opposition of US involvement. I moved through rooms displaying remnants such as a well that children hid in, weaponry, and fragments of a B-52 wreckage. I held back tears moving through an exhibit on The Effects of Agent Orange. I reflected on my privilege to travel in a country that people from my nation and even from my family were here once to serve. I am believe the US and countries across the world still have improving to do, but I am thankful and privileged to not have grown up living in fear and danger. Thank you to those who have served! 

I left for Cambodia the next morning. Once I arrived back on the night of the 14th, I spent that evening and the next day in the city. I had more pho and boba tea, went back to the market to bargain for family presents, and rode a motorbike a couple times around town with my friend using “Grab” (similar to Uber) before getting back onto the ship. Thank you Vietnam!! 

So the bad news I’ve had since leaving Vietnam is that due to Coronavirus, our voyage has not only been diverted from China, but also Malaysia and India. At the time I got the news, my boyfriend Henry was with my family prepping gifts and goodies to bring me as we were going to spend the time I had in Malaysia together. I am really upset we won’t be able to see each other for another few months, but it will make us stronger. ️<3 In addition, the airline made a deal with Henry to delay his flight to a later date this year, so its likely we will be going to Malaysia someday!! 

Egg coffee!

After a few days of thinking, I have become increasingly grateful for our itinerary changes. As of now (subject to change), we have 4 days ported in Victoria, Seychelles, a country I had not even heard of before the reroute, and is way out of my price range to fly to anytime soon! Semester at Sea has refunded me for all of the programs I had booked in India and Malaysia, and we are not charged any additional costs for the port changes. We also have 4 days in Port Louis, Mauritius, and an extra 2 days (now a total of 8) in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of students are really excited because they realize they can fly back to India and even Malaysia someday, popular spots for tourism, but Seychelles is much more difficult to get to, especially on a budget. If anyone has been before or heard of it and has travel advice, let me know! I am thankful for Semester at Sea’s work to keep us safe – this program is adventurous, resilient, and my voyage being their 128th, I trust they will make the best travel decisions for me! 

Thanks again for reading! I am eager to write about Cambodia and share my life-changing learning experiences. Stay tuned! 😊

Konichiwa!

Ohio! Konichiwa! Arigato gozai mashi ta! “Good morning,” “hello,” and “thank you” were a few of many phrases I have been saying the past week! I spent January 24th-28th in Japan, as our ship was ported in Kobe. Japan is such a culturally and historically rich country, which I left feeling so full of discovery, yet wanting so much more. I sure hope I have the opportunity to come back to Japan someday.

My first day off the ship, I went to a field class in Osaka for my macroeconomics class. We got onto a bus and our translator told us about the economy of Japan, the Isolationist period, decrease in population, the effects of a high elderly population and low youth population imbalance, and Japan’s incredible economic come back from World War 2 destruction. Japan currently has so much infrastructure and job openings that there would still be unfilled jobs if every unemployed person had 1.5 jobs (less than 3% unemployed). For our class trip, we got to visit the Security Exchange of Osaka, The Bank of Japan, and of course, the shopping district. We also got to have our sushi and udon-noodle lunch with a man who works for the U.S. Consulate General of Economic and Political Affairs, and ask him questions about his day-to-day life working abroad. This day was full of learning about Japan’s economy and historical influences. My favorite part was learning how to tell the difference between real and fake currency on ¥1000 (Japanese yen, about $9.16 USD) by looking at watermarks, small printing, and colors that turn gold in black light.

On the bus ride to our field program, I met a girl who had the same goal as me for the night, to make it to Tokyo. So after our field class we got back onto the ship, packed our bags and grabbed a bite to eat before joining another one of her friends for the three of us to catch an evening bullet train to Tokyo. Navigating the system was such an adventure! Japan’s rail system is used by millions of people a day, and the average  daily amount is greater than the number of people who use Europe’s rail system in a year. You can YouTube search “push man on Japan trains” if you want a visual of how busy the train system can get. The bullet train we got on was not too busy, and we ate snacks until arriving in the city around 11pm, where I left them to I met my five friends at our airbnb apartment at 11:30pm.

My second day, the six of us explored Tokyo. We went to the shopping district, candy district, 43rd floor of the government building for a city view. We tried lots of food from 7-elevens and vending machines, including coffee in juice box-like containers, sushi, ramen, and various breads with mochi inside. In the evening we went to the Digital Art Museum which was my favorite part of Tokyo, where we took lots of pictures. We ended the night going to Disney Sea! We rode a couple rides but had no idea when drops on rides where coming, or what the storylines illustrated, as everything was announced in Japanese – it made it all more fun and surprising!

On the third day at 3:30am, I woke up to Uber from our apartment to the Tokyo-Haneda airport. My friends stayed in Tokyo and then spent their last few days in Kyoto, but I had programs booked through Semester at Sea that I wanted to make it back for early to ensure I wouldn’t miss them. My flight left at 6:20 and arrived in Kobe at 7:40, where I walked outside of the airport, hopped onto a metro and got off 8 stops later. I arrived on the ship at 8am, 3 hours before my program had to meet. After a day in Tokyo, I felt like a pro with the metro/subway/train navigation 🙂

My first field program was to Mount Koyasan for a Buddhist Temple retreat. I got to wear a Yukata (similar to a Kimono) for a traditional Buddhist dinner, and we got Q&A time with one of the four monks and the temple we stayed at. I asked him about the basic changes in his lifestyle, challenges he had faced in a growing society, and how social attitudes towards marriage, family, leisure time and education were different before and after he became a monk. After this conversation, I figured my early morning wake up for this once in a lifetime opportunity was 100% worth it!

I spent the rest of the evening playing Japanese children’s games with some students and our trip liaison, John Tomecsek. He taught English abroad through the JET program and was my go-to person for any questions on Japanese culture and travel before we arrived in Kobe. After the games, myself and other students tried out the traditional Japanese baths; a very different form of socializing and staying clean than in the US! I was excited to try this out and enjoyed it, as well as using Japan’s bathrooms with heated toilet seats, bidets, and soothing music. 

Waking up, now my fourth day in Japan, we got to attend the Buddhist prayer. This was another highlight of the trip, experiencing the rituals of a culture I had never encountered before much further outside of a textbook or the internet. We also attended a fire ceremony, where loud vocalizing/singing and drumming occurred. The prayer and ceremony together lasted about an hour. We then visited a cemetery, with over 200,000 memorials, and built in 835 when Kukai began his deep meditation. If you would like to know more about Buddhist culture, I encourage you to research the history of Mount Koyasan!

We bussed back, and I relaxed in my ship cabin before getting dinner and visiting a karaoke bar with friends I met on the mountain retreat. The Japan drinking age is 20, so we ordered a few drinks but all made sure to try sake. Sake is a Japanese drink similar to wine but made with rice and starch rather than grapes with natural sugar. I really enjoyed it and would now call it one of my favorite drinks! Our selection of english songs was a fair size, as we sang Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Hannah Montana, and of course Justin Bieber.

My fifth and final day, I got to visit Kyoto. We saw the golden temple, had an origami lesson, walked through private streets, and I grabbed dumplings and udon soup for lunch with some friends. We also made sure to try Starbucks before getting back onto the bus and back to the ship. My caramel macchiato tasted similar to what I’m used to in the US, with only a noticeable amount of less sugar and caramel (which I preferred). I wish I had more time in Kyoto, as well as Tokyo, and I wish I made trips to Hiroshima, Nara, Okinawa, the countryside and mountains…but all the more reason to come back in the future! As you may have heard or suspected, we are not going to China due to the spreading of Coronavirus. Instead, we have 12 days ported in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and are arriving on February 4th. A lot of people on the ship were bummed out, losing money from non-refundable bookings and missing out on some bucket list items. I am praying for those who are affected by the virus and hope the US is steering clear from such a contagious illness! My visa doesn’t expire for 10 years so I’m hoping my friends and I may get to do a reunion within that time and visit Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai (and Shanghai Disney of course), hoping each of those cities will soon be safe! I am very blessed to be healthy and on this trip and I have been encouraging my friends to look at the bright side 🙂

Along with my health and safety, I am also grateful to now have the ability to explore more cities in Vietnam I wouldn’t have been able to travel to previously with only three days scheduled in Vietnam and three in Cambodia. I am now currently planning my to-do list for eight days in Vietnam, before I volunteer for three days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 


Thank you for the emails, messages and prayers! I hope everyone has been healthy in the US. I have been watching Marvel movies that cause me to miss friends and family at home… not many people watch tv then get encouraged to do homework or workout, but it has been so in my case. Only 3 more days until I am back on land adventuring! 

Don’t forget if you want to chat, my seamail is ellie.potts.sp20@semesteratsea.org – Thanks for reading!!

Aloha from Hawaii

Aloha! Today, January 13th, is my 20th birthday and I want to say thank you for all the wonderful birthday wishes! Yesterday, I spent the whole day in Hawaii, on the island Oahu as we ported in Honolulu. I traveled with my physical geography class, and we hiked Diamond Head, explored an arboretum, and also hiked a trail to Mānoa falls, one of the tallest waterfalls on the island of Oahu.

After seven days of looking out of our ship and seeing only ocean water, arriving upon land made me really happy, especially since our day consisted of spending the whole time outside or riding the bus through the city. At Diamond Head, our professor talked about the geology of Hawaii, and how the aging of islands affects the nutrient richness of soils. The restoration and preservation of native plants in Hawaii is something I am thankful for, and I hope to learn more about the roots and indigenous culture of Hawaii in future visits. Our tour guide David, works with horticulture for the University of Hawaii, where he restores native plant numbers. He also is starting his own sustainable clothing business! I enjoyed talking to him about travel, the environmental movement and its ties with preserving cultures. Talking to locals within the countries we are traveling to and learning a few words or sayings of their native language are a few of my goals for each port. The waterfall was beautiful, and getting covered in mud and rain along the way was so worth it. It rains 140 inches a year in the rain forest area we hiked in, which is much more compared to the beaches of Hawaii, which is only 10-20 inches a year. November to April is their rain season, but the day we were in port was extra rainy. Unlike Washington, this rain was in very warm humid weather, and I was happy to experience my first warm rain since being away from home.

The past week has had its ups and downs… I’ve missed family and friends from home, walking through campus, and of course my dogs. However, I have made a solid group of friends who I’ve been making travel plans with, watched movies with, and we’ve talked about the amazing experiences we will be undertaking for the next few months while at sea and land. We spent the evening tonight watching the sunset and eating birthday cake 🙂 Today is my first of 12 days before hitting Japan. Well, it’s actually 11 because we are crossing the international dateline, so no January 16th for me! We have had a few nights of gaining an hour of sleep, our third hour gained is tonight, but the night of January 15th we will be losing 23 hours. So, our clocks will go back one hour and our calendars will jump a day forward.

After the 11 days, the time between countries is much shorter, so more blog posts will be coming!! Thank you all for reading and thanks again for the birthday wishes! My seamail is ellie.potts.sp20@semesteratsea.org if you want to chat 🙂 

Welcome to my Blog

Hello and Happy 2020! Ellie Potts here! If you have come across this page, you may have recently heard of how I am going to be spending my next term at college. I have taken a full year and two quarters of college courses at Western so far, and rather than returning to Bellingham for my winter and spring quarters, I am spending a semester abroad with the Semester at Sea program through Colorado State University. This program runs twice a year, covering at least ten ports from four different continents. As a student of SAS Spring 2020, I will be shuttled from San Diego to Enseñada, Mexico where we embark, then traveling to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and finally the Netherlands. Following the voyage, my mother and sister will be flying to meet me in Belgium where we will visit and then travel to France and Spain. 15 countries in a few months with earning 19 quarter-college credits required me to get a new passport, visas, work several jobs, and fill out A LOT of paperwork. I am so excited for this journey as I have worked hard to make it happen, and I know I will meet people and learn about cultures that will change my perspective. If you want to learn more about the locations I am going to, Semester at Sea has the ports listed here: https://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/spring-2020/
While the ship is moving between ports, I will be in class taking courses to earn credits for my environmental economic major and international studies minor. The global studies course is required by SAS, and this course provides students with preparation before arriving at each port; from how to say common phrases of the native language, to history and relations with the U.S., and traveling advice, I am thankful this course is unique to the program and helpful to students. My other classes meet every other day, and include Physical Geography, Macroeconomics, and International Political Economy. I have a second (and almost complete) minor in Spanish, but SAS didn’t offer any courses this term, so I will have to keep up with my language by finding spanish books, movies and other student speakers of the 600-ish on my voyage.
I am going to be rooming in a small, triple bedroom dorm without a window, and with two girls who I met online while searching for SAS roommates. I am excited to share my DVD player with them (thanks for the Christmas present mom and dad!), as I am bringing a handful of borrowed DVDs (thank you Stephanie!) as wifi is not consistent while at sea. I am also packing my aero press coffee maker, some spanish books, my new camera, and a few journals to fill with my stories.
I plan to post on my blog once or twice every other week, depending on our timing with ports. If you would like to write me emails or letters, my email is ellie.potts.sp20@semesteratsea.org and here is information for writing letters to SAS students: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vT3VatxZq3df0tjjoR4n_oh5GQotlnrIKejXkQA_0PJhQHxuhwZaaNiCzi25KCTi7XZuPinEWD7UBF4/pub
Thank you for reading and supporting me on this incredible voyage! There are many other thoughts I have had and want to share in my next posts about the privilege of travel and the responsibility I believe there is to give back. If you have travel advice, questions, or comments, feel free to leave them below as I am currently on my flight to San Diego and will be there until January 4th when I head for the ship 🙂