I was in college when my phone lighted up. I normally don't switch it on when in college, but today was important. There was a message which said "Congratulations, you have been selected as the Inter-port student to represent India for Semester at Sea." Well, I've been expecting this for the past two years, this being my fifth attempt. Now I know how exactly Robert Bruce would have felt when he ascended his throne after his umpteenth try!
Since that day, I have been excited about everything associated with it. I visited the Semester At Sea website at least 25 times each day to see how the ship looked like, the rooms, the number of decks, the size of the ship, the number of students and staff - The statistics of the ship were in fact, etched in my memory by the time I left India.
Two Inter-port students are selected each year, this year being myself and Prem Shankar, we got to know each other a lot before we left - we discovered that we shared our birthdays, except that we were born a year apart and what's more, we both had the same camera! So, I made a mental note to self which said 'no showing-off of your newly-acquired-gadget'. Sad.
I had a lot of packing to do the night before we left - the house was a mess. Emirates' food was a delight - our three hour transit in Dubai was just right to buy a calling card to call home. Our six hour journey to Mauritius was long, but I made it a point to sit near the window so I could have a glimpse of the little Island called Mauritius!
After staying in a posh hotel in the centre of Mauritius for three days, a day with my dad's friend and two other days shopping and clicking pictures of everything small, tiny and beautiful we could find on the beaches of Mauritius, we were all set to board MV Explorer, the world's fastest and safest ships afloat!
We reached the port early in the morning - 6.30 am! I was hyperventilating! The very size of the ship made me feel that way! The 83 ft high ship gave me jitters - well, my hands became cold, it just sank in, that I was, after all, going to step into MV Explorer - I was happy, for tears rolled down my cheeks. After all the formalities, we were asked to move into our respective rooms, we were given a card which we could used as a key to enter our rooms. My card said SWATHI SRIRAM - Student, MV Explorer, SEMESTER AT SEA, along with my photograph!
Thus began my week long sojourn on the ship - Every day was new - it completely changed the way I looked at Americans, they were such warm people who embraced everyone ~ especially the Indians, for most of them were drawn to Indian culture and way of living, they loved discussing the concept of arranged marriages! My presentations that concentrated on Indian culture and marriages, were much questioned about! every single person on the ship knew Prem and me by our names - we had a very tough time having to remember the names of 400 and odd people we met on the ship!
My friend making abilities extended to being friends with the Life Long Learners (LLLs) who were the best part of the colossal ship. I loved every bit of the ship and I'm still heady with the drug of having been aboard the MV Explorer, the world's fastest and safest ships afloat! :D