I have always wanted to be a world traveler, so when the opportunity arose for me to host a U-M alumni cruise around Europe, I was surprised my feelings were vacillating between excitement and trepidation. This would be my first time to Europe—having previously travelled abroad to Central and South America—and I suddenly felt nervous about how I would handle currency exchanges, different languages, and a number of cultures, all in one trip. I also, quite frankly, worried about life on a ship and travelling with a wide swath of fellow Wolverines. I shouldn’t have. My 11-day “See the World With Blue” travel experience turned out to be deeply meaningful on many levels. Here are my insights, that in retrospect, I think led to such a successful trip:
When in Rome….. As the saying goes, do as the Romans do. I embraced and celebrated aspects of the culture in each country I visited. I tried out simple phrases in Italian or French (no one minded if they were imperfect), sampled local cuisine (Focaccia in the U.S. will forever be ruined), and respected the faith-based practices of religious sites (I covered my shoulders before entering the Cathedral de Barcelona). All were instances where my purposeful engagement led to respectful cultural exchanges with locals. But I also saw how much I had in common with the strangers around me. Being a mother, I noticed the childrearing in every country we visited. Seeing parents soothing, helping, or playing with their kids, resonated strongly with me.
Wolverine Bonding. My trip duties included hosting 30 Michigan travelers. Our years of graduation, degree paths, geographic locations, and experiences were very different. I was pleasantly relieved (though not surprised,) to quickly find I felt at home (even out at sea), with my Michigan community. We shared a common bond and love for U-M that was only strengthened as we swapped stories over leisurely dinners about things like traveling on narrow European roads in large tour buses. Call me sappy, but I loved travelling with other Michigan Wolverines.
A View From Every Room. Okay, I get it, it’s a cliche to say, but the Mediterranean Sea is incredibly beautiful. Waking up every morning to the breathtaking view of the French Riviera, or the coastline of the Spanish Island Ibiza, did not disappoint. I had seen the pictures and heard the stories, but actually seeing the landscape, smelling the sea salt air, and immersing myself in the towns, cities, and villages we visited, left me feeling rejuvenated and wondering how I could move to the region ASAP!
Jump on the Boat. Our cruise ship was midsized, about 1,200 passengers and 856 crew, which felt about right as a “newbie” to cruising. Having said that, there is a reason that hand sanitizer is everywhere, so use it people. But also, be sure to get to know your crew. Our crew, like the countries we visited, represented global cultures and identities. Although we were not traveling in the Philippines we struck up an informal friendship with a cruise bartender from Manila who regaled us with stories of his home country, as well as interesting tales about working on a cruise ship.
Find Comfort in Discomfort. Travelling to new places can be nerve-wracking, whether you are a less-seasoned traveler like me or a well-worn traveler. There is a certain vulnerability in confronting the unfamiliar. This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! My experience was a reminder of the necessity of stepping out of my norms. Be it practicing cultural humility, or immersing myself in the gastronomical, physical, or spiritual conventions of the places I visited, all sparked a genuine, life-affirming, curiosity and appreciation that will stay with me.
If Amy’s experience sparked a curiosity about travel with the Alumni Association within you, we invite you to browse our Travel Collection for a variety of enriching journeys.