What is Life on Semester at Sea?

  1. Eating all the pasta and potatoes you’ve never wanted
  2. Whale sightings as you watch the sunset during dinner
  3. Having classes only 7 days during the month of February
  4. Using Wikipedia for research and getting news from the ever-accurate Yahoo (Free Sites)
  5. Not having access to any social media and not minding one bit
  6. Perpetually not knowing the day of the week
  7. Having three continents of clothing in your daily wardrobe
  8. Being friends with the entire ship and being able to open up to anyone
  9. Skipping class because the curtains rocking in the union make you feel seasick
  10. A place where ‘Stand-Up Punning’ is actually considered a talent – and enough to make it into your first talent show
  11. Losing your homework in Viet Nam
  12. Eating breakfast with your professors
  13. Holding twelve kinds of currency in your wallet
  14. Having the greatest extended family in the world, and feeling like royalty when they treat you to pizza
  15. Spending 45 minutes to send one email using the ship’s WiFi (and 2 hours to send in blog posts)!
  16. Getting used to time changes as a semi-daily routine
  17. Monthly lifeboat drills
  18. Always looking forward to the next open mic night
  19. Shaving your head on Neptune Day
  20. Finding your own little ‘enclave’ or spot on the ship to make your own
  21. Making friends with everyone in the crew and feeling amazing when they begin knowing your name and small-chatting with you
  22. Remembering only how to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ in foreign languages
  23. People paying over $200 for 10 boxes of Girl Scout cookies at auction night
  24. Signing each other’s world map at the end of the semester
  25. Feeling extreme amounts of pride for your sea (Bering!) and shipboard community
  26. Constantly reevaluating life and learning to place far more emphasis on interpersonal friendships- a fresh start of sorts

semester at sea shaved head globe

Semester at Sea: The Final Days

After Morocco, the ship had just four days at sea before disembarkation in Southampton.  The inevitable was fast approaching, and my friends and I could no longer push away thoughts of leaving any longer.

So with (most of) our classes done, my group got closer – both literally and physically. We began hanging out in a cosy little alcove under the second deck staircase, and spent much of our days hanging out there.

semester at sea friends

The alumni ball was the night of the 29th. The seas was pretty rocky; dancing was a hoot. The entire dance floor would shift back and forth as each wave hit. I’m pretty sure if there had been a dance party the first week, we’d have all fallen overboard. Thank goodness for getting our sea legs!

The final song of the dance was the Titanic song, My Heart Will Go On. We joined arms in a circle, rocking back and forth. It is really striking how close we’ve gotten in such a short time; although with the the lack of internet and such close quarters, it was probably only natural.

My friends sure do make me look good, don’t they?

semester at sea group photo alumni ball

semester at sea silly stair photo

Instead of yearbooks, most people bought world maps from the store and asked everyone to sign theirs. The first two days the maps gradually appeared, but by the third day you were practically stepping all over them. I put off signing them as long as I could, but ultimately had to begin saying my goodbyes.

Commencement for the seniors was a bit of a hoot, only on SAS…

semester at sea commencement

Packing was pretty difficult. Partly because the cabin was physically too small for us to both pack at the same time, but mostly because the bags I brought were absolutely tiny. I swear I didn’t buy that many souvenirs, they multiply like rabbits!

semester at sea outside cabin room and roommate

I’ve never had a roommate before, but Brandon was a pretty awesome guy. Despite his claims of ‘never reading’, he finished roughly 50 books during the four months.

As winners of Sea Olympics, the Bering Sea was given the ‘privilege’ of getting off the ship first. Our Assistant Dean Zaneeta called our sea, but Celeste and I weren’t ready to disembark. Our group huddled together and waited for the last groups to be called to finally disembark.

Was I ready to get off? I can’t really answer that. Part of me missed the freedom of land and promise of more than just pasta, potatoes, and peanut butter and jelly. But most of me was eager to continue at sea, my brain is almost still waiting for the next reembarkation. And as much as I thought during the voyage that I would miss the MV Explorer, I really won’t. The MV Explorer is a beautiful ship, but what I’ll truly miss is the people and ideas that it carries. From the overdramatic security briefings and cult-like Ubuntu Coffee social venture to the family dinners and open-mic nights, I’ll miss it all. But despite it all, saying goodbye to my closest friends wasn’t overly sad at the end of the day. It was a genuine ‘see you again.’

semester at sea fancy dinner photo

Semester at Sea: Sea Olympics

Each deck is separated into seas, and the winning sea at Sea Olympics gets eternal glory as well as free popcorn and the choice of getting off the ship first or last. Nearly every type of strength is tested from physical pull ups and tug of war to synchronized swimming and emotionally challenging haiku death matches.Following are scenes from the day’s events, during which my sea emerged victorious.
Tug of War:

Hula Hoop Relay:

Synchronized Swimming:

Lip Sync:

Frozen T-Shirt Competition:

Note – this event is much harder than it looks. They took t-shirts, twisted them, tied two knots into them, soaked them in water, and froze them solid. Our goal was to undo the knots and put on the t-shirt. It took our team over 30 minutes, but somehow we managed to win as chants of “Bering Sea” swept the crowd.

Eastern Toilet Squat Challenge:

It came down to the wire, but somehow the staff’s sea ended up victorious by squatting well over five minutes.

After each sea’s results were announced, chants and cheers broke out. My particular favorite was the Adriatic Sea chanting, “5th is fine.” Following are my friends and I holding our sea’s respective places.

semester at sea olympics group photo

YES Abroad Ghana Q&A Part Two

To see the first Q&A, click here.

1. What are you doing once you return home?

I return home on July 3rd. After a long shower, I will [hopefully] be eating Israeli couscous served with mango chipotle salmon and sautéed brussels sprouts/asparagus.

After satisfying my taste buds, my plans for the summer are as follows:

July 5-10: Madison, WI
July 16-18: UF Preview
July 25-30: Chicago/Iowa
August 2-12: Seattle
Somewhere between August 18-22: Move to Gainesville for UF

2. Did your dreams change? I mean the ones you have during sleep.

Although I’m not entirely sure what the implications/meanings of this question are, I will say that I sleep like a rock here in Ghana. My brother Stanley always exclaims, “Eii Charlie; you can sleep Kwadwo!”

I hardly ever remember my dreams – besides the one from a couple of weeks ago where I lost an arm and had to beg on the streets to pay for my plane ticket home…

3. What was the scariest thing you experienced?

The infamous football mob. It was horrible; I am lucky to have escaped when I did.

4. What is the one event you will remember for a lifetime?

Besides my encounters with a spider  and story from Cape Coast, I have to mention the women of Malata market will forever be in my heart.

 I love them all, which is why I have formally accepted marriage proposals from no less than four women. Polygamy aside, they are fantastic people. They live in squalor – selling vegetables here and there for coins. But they are some of the most sincere, gentle, and kind women I’ve met. They pamper me – treating me with samples, special deals, and often giving me produce for free despite being fully aware that I am capable of paying 10 cents for a papaya. I will truly miss my ‘Sisters’ and ‘Aunties’ of Malata market.

5. How has your experience in Craig Price’s improv comedy classes helped you with communication, friendships, interpersonal relationships and your overall experience in Ghana?

In general, I see life as improvisation. No matter what your job [lawyer, salesman, dentist, or teacher] there is some level of improvisation involved.

My stay in Ghana has been all about putting myself out there. Just by being white, I automatically get an abnormal amount of attention. I am often the first American that Ghanaians have ever met or spoken with. Being seen abroad creates impressions of your country; it’s up to you whether they are positive or negative.

I will say that my puns [which I practiced in Craig’s improvisation classes] have a tendency to hurt relationships with Ghanaians. They are almost never understood, leading to awkwardness.

5. How do you think you’ll reaclimate to American culture? What challenges do you foresee?

Quite honestly, I think I’ll re-adjust very easily. I don’t foresee any major challenges, just the following minor ones:

  • Air conditioning will be freezing.
  • Life without owning a car isn’t nearly as easy in Florida.
  • I’ve started mixing up Spanish and Twi with my limited knowledge of Korean and Chinese.
  • Trying to catch up with movies. I can’t wait for The Hunger Games, Madagascar 3, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,  and Rock of Ages.
  • I cannot imagine living without hawkers on the street selling food and water in baskets on their heads. Seriously… what happens if I get hungry or thirsty on the road?!

6. Do you have any tips for those going to Ghana next year with YES?

Let your host family know straight from the beginning what you want to get out of the experience, and [if] you plan on traveling independently. Don’t assume anything; tell them up front why you’re here and what your expectations are. Ask for your family’s feelings and expectations as well. Every family has a reason for hosting you; they don’t get paid for doing it. Know their expectations and balance  them with yours. If expectations conflict, sit down and have a good talk with your family. Try to understand why they act the way they do.

On the subject of school, know that after completing high school Ghanaians do not receive their diploma. They first must pass the WASCE – the Ghanaian version of the SAT. It is pass or fail; failing can ruin your life. Teachers will teach ‘to the textbook’, in the manner of rote memorization. It may seem like they’re not teaching, but that is what’s required to pass their final exams. It can be brutal, one reason I personally switched to catering school. But according to Kyla, “I made a lot of really great friends that otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to know so well. It ended up being very rewarding sticking with school.”

Exchange is a test – of ups and downs. Days vary between wonderful, horrible, and everything in-between. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to politely speak up. If you don’t get what you want out of your host year, you have only yourself to blame.

At the end of the year, you’ll be shocked at how fast it flew by. There will be rough spots [months 3-5 personally], but part of the experience is learning to endure. You’ll come out all the better.


I want to give a shoutout to my favorite AFS Frenchman, Balthazar. He left Ghana yesterday, after finishing his year program. When I met Balthy in the Amsterdam airport, we could hardly understand each other and I had to repeat anything I said at least 3-4 times for him to understand.

Fast forward 10 months, I am amazed. His newfound ability to speak and understand English as well as ‘pull-off’ wearing tres chic scarves is shocking. His humor transcends the language barrier, and he’s been a great friend. But above all he was, and always will be, my bro.

Thank you to everyone who has kept in touch throughout my year abroad. I realize it’s tough doing that from halfway across the world, and I sincerely appreciate the effort.


YES Abroad Ghana: Last Month Q&A

1. When do you come home?

I leave Ghana on June 30th and have a return orientation in Washington D.C. I return to Naples on July 3rd.

2. Do you want to come home?

In most ways I do. That being said, certain places in Ghana seem like home to me. I feel like part of the family at Malata market and around Roman Ridge [where I lived with my first family]. As soon as I visit both places, the sound of women yelling “Kwadwo” fills the air, and I am greeted with hugs and adoration.

Nonetheless, I am excited for the convenience of Whole Foods Market and not  having to shower out of a bucket.

3. What will your first three meals be in Naples?

Meal #1: Israeli couscous with mango glazed sockeye salmon accompanied by sautéed brussels sprouts and asparagus.

Meal #2: Toasted ‘everything’ bagel with freshly made pesto and smoked whitefish, topped with sliced tomato and avocado.

Meal #3: Siam Thai Cafe – Pad kee mao [rice noodles with a basil sauce] and massaman curry with extra broccoli.

4. How are you spending your final weeks in Ghana?

Now that I am finished with Flair Catering, I have begun a two-week internship with Trafix Catering. This popular restaurant and catering service is located in the National Theater, seen below.

Since I already know how to cook the majority of Ghanaian and Continental dishes, I am waiting tables and generally making friends with the Ghanaians. It’s great being able to use Twi to interact with Ghanaians and share my experiences with them. I also love watching the occasional obruni customer [attempt to] eat local dishes without silverware.

After my internship ends, I will be going on a final trip to Takoradi before ultimately preparing for my departure.

5. Did you ever get sick in Ghana?

Besides one episode of food poisoning, no. I love Ghana; I don’t even have my usual morning allergies here! As far as food poisoning is concerned, I strongly recommend future visitors to NEVER eat salad sold on the street.

6. Do you think you’ll miss the ‘foreign’ experience enough that you may want to eventually live in another country? 

I have no problems with living abroad, provided I can find stable internet connections. But unless my future job calls for it, America is one of the best places in the world to live… despite the recent cannibalism/zombie apocalypse trend.

7. How has this trip changed you?

For better or worse, I see myself as:

  • More eager to see the world.
  • More likely to eat my weight in broccoli during my first week in America.
  • More likely to question the status quo [aka complain].
  • More easygoing; things often turn out for the better when you don’t plan them.
  • More blunt; eating around the bush wastes time.
  • More likely to stop and ask for directions.
  • More patriotic; most Americans don’t realize how truly lucky they are. Back home, parents raise kids telling them that they can be ‘anything they want to be’. For the most part, it’s true. For children abroad, it isn’t.
  • And finally, less scared of boa constrictors:

8. Will you cook for me? 

Sure thing Aunt Liz! I’ve already found several websites to buy the common Ghanaian ingredients online.

Shikenan African Shop

Aboasa International Market

Get ready Americans; you’re about to get your first taste of  fufu, palm nut soup, pollo, and a bunch of other Ghanaian goodies!

If you have any other questions you’d like to see answered, leave them in the comments section below.

Tafi Abuife Kente Village


Kente weaving is an ancient art, its roots dating before 3000 B.C. This past week Drew, Adriana, and I visited the largest kente village in Ghana – Tafi Abuife.

Aikins, our friendly guide, gave us a tour around the village of 3000. Every child is taught the art of weaving kente upon reaching the age of seven – as a birthright, responsibility, and means of making money. The ‘click clack’ sound of looms can be heard across the village.

Kente weaving was inspired by intricate spider webs in the ancient forests of Ghana. Legend says that two hunters found an exceptional web, and studied its designs and patterns for two days. Afterwards, they returned to their village to implement what they had seen. Kente was known as the ‘cloth of kings’ due to the cost and time required to weave it. Even with modern-day technology, it is still woven by hand. Each strip is classified by the number of weaves used to make it. A single weave takes five hours to complete, a double weave takes seven hours, and a triple weave takes a whopping nine hours.

Everything about kente is symbolic – the colors, symbols, and geometric designs. Common designs include those of unity, birds, hills, and our footprints as human beings.

My favorite part of the tour was getting to see the ‘weaving houses.’ These sweatshop-like buildings were built by the government to ensure that kente could still be produced during the rainy season. There are three of these buildings in all.

Kente sellers were eager for us to try on their goods to potentially make a sale. Their tactics worked; I now own the two satchels seen in the photo below.

All in all, it was great seeing kente being produced firsthand. I would have loved to stay overnight in the village for a weaving apprenticeship, but my time was limited. But that didn’t keep me from ordering a custom-made kente blanket, the subject of tomorrow’s post!

April Ghana Updates

1. Birthdays: A certain optimist said the following quote regarding birthdays. “Birthdays are great, it’s when everyone tells you they’re happy you were born. Soak it up and be thrilled that you’re alive, that you’re so dank, that you have an awesome life and that it’s going to get even better.”

I tend to be a pessimist regarding birthdays. I prefer giving gifts [usually handmade/written] to people, and never seem to appreciate receiving gifts as much as I enjoy giving them – as cliché as it sounds. The words ‘happy birthday’, particularly when said on Facebook, seem more of an obligation than genuine.

Regardless, this year’s birthday went pretty well. After spending the morning on the 19th ingesting ‘The Da Vinci Code’, I crawled out of my bed at lunchtime and went to a PC cafe. There I received e-mails from Drew and Bany urgently begging me to  come to the AFS office to help plan trips.

Recognizing their message as a birthday ploy to surprise me with either dancers, apple turnovers, or an impromptu Bruno Mars concert – I continued using my computer. But after an hour of wasting time on YouTube, I decided to give in. I walked to the AFS office, sat down, and pretended to be surprised when Drew, Bany, and Balthazar came out with a cake. It was surprisingly tasty, unlike most ‘Western’ baked goods available in Ghana.

2. Traveling: While Mama was here, we visited Cape Coast, Hohoe and Kumasi. But two days per city wasn’t nearly enough, so I am planning return trips to each of those cities. In Hohoe I will be going on a cruise of the Volta Lake – where most of Ghana’s tilapia come from. I’ll also be returning to the Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary and hiking to Wli’s upper falls.

3. More Adventurous Eating: …Where do I begin? I’m a huge fan of Andrew Zimmern, despite being raised by macrobiotic pescatarians. As Zimmern says, “one perfectly normal meal  for one culture is easily considered ‘bizarre’ to the next”. One example is the American concept of eating meat. Here in Ghana, you don’t eat large quantities of meat (i.e. a steak dinner, meal of chicken nuggets, etc). Small quantities of meat are always accompanied with larger amounts of grains – usually rice.

‘Bizarre’ is a relative word.  Some think large quantities of meat are bizarre, others may think eating guineafowl, tilapia heads, and bushmeat is bizarre.

The guineafowl I recently ate was grilled whole, then separated into pieces in a takeaway container.  The meat was moister than chicken, and had a deeper/gamey flavor. Guineafowl have no fat and are relatively small. Most of the bones are edible, and actually taste  quite delicious. But after 10 minutes of chewing bones, my jaw became sore and I had to stop.

When I refer to ’tilapia heads’, my parents are probably thinking that I mean the tilapia ‘collars’. Collars are the most flavorful and moist meat – located on the top of the fish. Instead, the meat I’m talking about tasting is located within the head. A Ghanaian showed me how to properly crush the head by pushing in, and extract the extremely small, pea sized tilapia brain. It tasted rather pithy/sandy, but it is the prized piece of  fish for Ghanaians.

Finally, I tasted grasscutter for the first time yesterday. Grasscutters are essentially rats that live in the African bush, and grow to be up to 20 pounds.

It was smoked and part of a soup called ‘green green’. To me it tasted slightly of sage. The only issue I had with it was that some pieces tasted better than others – supposedly because of the way they are smoked. The leg meat tasted horribly of formaldehyde, but the upper body was delicious.

4. Awaiting Too Much To Do: This is driving me crazy. My to-do list is steadily growing, and it’s composed almost entirely of things that I cannot accomplish due to distance from home and terrible Ghanaian internet. This is one of the primary disadvantages of taking a gap year.

Current To-Do List:

1.  Buy a car and figure out the best way to get car insurance.
2. Schedule my UF orientation.
3.  Possibly work on planning a road trip to visit friends in Tennessee, Iowa & Chicago.
4. Figure out where I’ll be living in Gainesville (somewhere off-campus…)
5. Plan trips in Ghana – Return to Hohoe, Northern Ghana, Cape Coast, fabric shopping in Kumasi, and the Koforidua bead market.
6. Finish reading every book by Dan Brown.


Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary


Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary is easily one of the most fantastic places I’ve been to in Ghana.  After spending the night nearby at Wli waterfall, we bought $2 of bananas, hopped in a taxi, and made our way to the monkeys. These little guys awaited us…

A bit of history about the monkey sanctuary:

With the spread of Christianity in Ghana,  the Traditionalist belief of worshipping animals became a taboo. With people no longer viewing animals as sacred, they killed the monkeys in Tafi Atome to near-extinction.

In 1993, John Mason, became the director of ecotourism. He convinced the villagers of the economic benefits of protecting the monkeys, and the Monkey Sanctuary has been in existence since then.

The monkeys we saw were adult mona monkeys. As soon as the monkeys discovered us, the leader ‘claimed Mama’ by peeing on her head from a distant tree above us. Somehow he knew that she was the only female in our group, despite being high above us. Logan and I saw this happening, but we were too stunned to tell her to move.

Mona monkeys travel in families, which consist of 30-50 monkeys.  There are five families in Tafi Atome.

The female monkeys have kangaroo-like pouches that hold their babies inside.

Bananas don’t grow naturally in their forest, so the monkeys go crazy when tourists visit. After 15 minutes of feeding the slightly-aggressive adult monkeys, the guide took us further into the forest and started calling the younger ones. With bananas as incentives, these monkeys jumped all over our arms and shoulders in pursuit of the precious fruit. Logan was awestruck when he made his first  monkey friend.

Followed by his second…

Eventually, the monkeys  couldn’t get enough of him.

Soon the monkeys discovered Mama.

Her monkey-butt disgust quickly succumbed to laughter.

And gradually, she began enjoying the monkeys’ presence and tried to converse with them.

Now onto my reactions. At first, being jumped on by monkeys overwhelmed me just as it did Logan and Mama before me. [Please ignore my 4 chins.]

I came to love my four-legged friends, and can’t wait until my next visit to the sanctuary [or until I own one as a pet!]

Flair Catering School

It’s been a while since I posted a general update about my life, so here goes.

As you may remember, this past December I stopped schooling at Achimota, due to a myriad of reasons. AFS told me I would start acting school and catering school by the beginning of January, so I’ve been kicking back and relaxing for the past two months.

As it turns out, acting school was far too expensive.  But catering school has worked itself out just fine; I am now officially enrolled to one of Ghana’s top catering schools, and set to begin on Monday.

Flair Catering Service

Flair, the premier caterer in Ghana,  is over 40 years old. They’ve catered for a variety of top officials including:

  • His Royal Highness Prince Charles of England,
  • The Imperial Highness, Prince & Princess Takamado of Japan,
  • The Sultan of Brunei,
  • President Tabo Mbeki of South Africa,
  • His Excellency the Prime Minister of Malaysia,
  • The Late Emperor Haille Selasie of Ethiopia,
  • Former Secretary Generals of the United Nations, U Thant & Perez de Cuellar,
  • Former United States President, Jimmy Carter and
  • Former United States Vice President, Spiro Agnew.

At Flair, I’ll be taking one-on-one classes in both Ghanaian and continental (African) cuisine. I’ll also be learning plenty of other facts about the restaurant/catering industry;  it’ll be interesting to see the Ghanaian spin. I’ll receive my syllabus on Monday.

Coming from a foodie, Flair is a very ‘legit’ Ghanaian catering school. The workstations are professional and clean… if only it had air conditioning!

Photo from Flair’s website. Note – their countertops are truly this shiny.

One interesting thing to note about Ghanaian culinary schools is that they don’t provide tool for students to use. They expect students to buy the tools in order to have a full kitchen ready when they complete school. Meaning AFS had to spend the past week buying everything on an extremely long list of kitchen utensils…

Not to mention the second page…

Ingredients are also not provided, but I’m okay with that since I’ll be able to take all of my food home with me to enjoy.

To add to the inconvenience of a long list of supplies, there’s no extra storage at Flair. Meaning I’ll have to taxi to and from the school while carrying the required supplies for the day. That aspect of schooling is not going to be fun…

Two boxes of supplies down… ∞ to go!