I ran away from home when I was six years old. I packed an orange Pocahontas backpack with snacks, a blanket, and my favorite book and set out across our farm—with my mother watching and waving from the picture window in her kitchen. I never ran away to escape my family or because I was unhappy. My parents admit that I have always been a bit restless. But seeing me “run away” when I was six was hardly comparable to the shock they got when I declared that I would be leaving to study abroad with Semester at Sea in 2013.
Before Semester at Sea, I had never traveled outside of the United States. In fact, my first time on a plane was the twelve hour flight to London to board the ship that would take me around the world. In a matter of a few short months, my worldview and my understanding of different cultures and societies exploded from a single region of eastern Kentucky to sixteen countries spread over four continents.
It would take many more pages than those I have been afforded to recant the myriad of experiences I had during my time abroad. I have run for shelter from an unexpected tropical storm in Uruguay. I have fallen asleep to the rhythm of ocean waves off the coast of France. I have teetered in a wooden desk in a Ghanaian school. I have watched the sunset reflect off the Baltic Sea. I have discussed U.S. Cuban relations with a Cuban citizen as I sipped the best cup of coffee I’ve had in my life. I have hiked through the Amazon rainforest and swam with pink river dolphins. I have danced to syncopated drums and bells in a Berber village in Morocco. I have so many fond memories and adventures from my time abroad, but my favorite memory is from my camel trekking excursion into the Sahara Desert in Morocco.
As we were lying on handwoven mats on the desert sand, a meteor shower spread across the sky as far as I could see. Ibraham, one of our guides, looked at me and said, “Quick, Jessica! Make you a wish.” And I stalled out for something to wish for. I explained to him that being able to go abroad with Semester at Sea had been my dream for so long that I didn’t know what to wish for. He then asked if he could have my wish, which I happily said he could. He looked up at the sky and said, “I wish for you will always find your next dream and have new wishes soon.” I’ll never forget that night as the stars were shooting across the sky and a complete stranger wished for me to have a kind of life I had never imagined—a life filled with a passion for travel that I never realized I possessed until Semester at Sea opened my eyes.