Brittany Colquitt, 20, just returned from a voyage around the world. She saw many things on her journey, but says her life was most impacted by the ordinary folks she met along the way.
Brittany, daughter of Dr. Mark Colquitt and Melony Colquitt, just returned from participating the Semester at Sea. She was one of 700 students aboard the MV Explorer, the floating classroom of the Semester at Sea program. Brittany, a 2007 graduate of Maryville High School, just completed her second year at Wake Forest University.
The Semester at Sea program started in 1963 as a way for students to “study abroad while sailing the globe.” Since that time more than 45,000 students have traveled to more than 60 countries. This educational, non-profit course offers 20 disciplines of study supported by the University of Virginia. Past voyages introduced students to notable lecturers and guests such as Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev, Indira Ghandi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Fidel Castro. Some prominent alumni include novelist Arthur C. Clarke, author Robert Fulghum, and former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm.
Brittany didn’t meet any famous or infamous people on her voyage, but she says the ordinary people made the biggest impact on her. “The lady in the African Market who told me to always listen to my heart, and the Chinese farmer who held my hand while I hiked six miles on the Great Wall of China, and many more ordinary people made a huge impact on who I’m becoming,” she says.
Brittany says that her adventures taught her to be more open-minded and that being uncomfortable can be a good thing. “I think we can become more aware of people and life in general if we are forced into situations that make us feel uncomfortable,” she says, “Mostly, I learned a lot about myself, my boundaries, and my place in the world.”
“The classrooms on the ship were comfortable,” Brittany says, “There were only 9 rooms for classes, along with the ‘Union,’ where all 733 students gathered every morning for Global Studies.”
A Psychology major, she left Nassau on Jan. 20 and in early May. A few of the countries she visited were Spain, Morocco, South Africa, China, Vietnam and Japan. While traveling she took classes in Global Studies, Cognitive Psychology, World Religions, and Western Civilization.
“In the first week, people would run out of class because they were seasick, and it was always easy to find a seat,” Brittany says, “As people got used to the rocky nature of the ship, students in my class were forced to sit on the floor, simply because I was lucky enough to take the classes that everyone wanted to get in to.”
Her biggest challenge was overcoming stereotypes of different cultures. “Without even wanting to be, I was intimidated by Morocco’s Islamic culture and nervous to ride the third-class train in South Africa,” she explains, “I quickly learned how to trust and accept people unlike myself while still being safe and true to my instincts.”
One port that made an impact was Morocco where at first she was afraid that she wouldn’t enjoy herself. “But after having dinner with a Moroccan family that basically took care of us, showing us the different sites, and demonstrating just how friendly people are there, I quickly realized that every port would come with its own joys.”
One of her favorite stops was South Africa. “I love the people there,” she says. “There is a lot to see and do, and everything is really cheap.” Her other favorite was Vietnam, though she did feel intimidated by the Communist government.
“I was scared for the first time in Vietnam, going to the Mekong Delta with only two other girls, but by that point, I had traveled a lot and knew how to be safe and aware,” Brittany says, “I will never forget my experiences there and the people I met.”
Though she saw many new things, Brittany missed the view of the mountains near her house.
“I think a lot of times people forget to take advantage of the beautiful area we live in,” she says, “I learned a lot about the environment and can now fully appreciate how beautiful Tennessee really is.”
Her dad, Dr. Mark Colquitt, had some anxiety about her being gone for so long, but had a tremendous amount of confidence in the Semester at Sea program. He considers this and other trips abroad to be one of the greatest gifts he and his wife could give. “Each time, I think she grows up a little more and becomes more independent,” Dr. Colquitt says regarding her travels, “She is more appreciative of the things that she has. These experiences are preparing her for adult life and to not be afraid to explore and learn about the world around her.”
Brittany says that she learned how important it is to love life and make the most of every moment. Traveling the world is a huge task, and it was very important to make every moment count in every country. “It’s important to be open minded, patient, kind, forgiving and passionate,” she says. “I think all of these can only be learned by listening to people unlike oneself.”