Lynden’s Bouma finds enriching journey during Semester at Sea

During 100 days at sea, Kaitlyn Bouma of Lynden docked in 11 ports she had once never imagined she would see. But what she called “my 12th port” meant the most to her.

“My 12th port will be the memories, the friends, the pictures, the inside jokes, the tears, laughter, dreams, insecurities, and the sculpting of the new me,” Bouma, 21, writes on her travel blog.

Bouma, who will begin classes at Washington State University in the fall as a transfer student from Whatcom Community College, recently concluded the “Semester at Sea” program through the University of Virginia. She is a graduate of Lynden Christian High School and the daughter of Gene and Marney Bouma.

Question: From reading your final blog, you seemed convinced your life had changed forever.

Answer: It absolutely did. I came from a small-town, sheltered background, and I had no idea what I would see, what the world was really like in so many places. I want others to know how beneficial this can be, so they will consider the journey, too.

Q: Who gets the credit for convincing you to go?

A: My older sister, Jennifer, who also went on the Semester at Sea. She kept telling me how much good it would do me and how much it would mean to me. I could not be more thankful I finally listened to her. The trip was expensive, but it was a fabulous gift from my parents. They made it all possible. And they’ve done so much to teach me responsibility.

Q: Sounds like the trip did wonders for your intellectual curiosity.

A: The trip was incredibly mind-expanding; an experience I can never forget. High school was sometimes a struggle for me and I was definitely sheltered and my self-esteem was low. I took a year off to work before I began attending college classes, because I didn’t feel I was ready for college. Now I feel so differently.

Q: How many people did you travel with? Did any of them become close friends?

A: I was among 700 students on the MV (Motor Vessel) Explorer, which is based out of Nassau in the Bahamas. All together, about 1,000 people were on board from Feb. 4 to May 14. I took four university classes. Fortunately, my roommate and I hit it off well, and I also made friends with dozens of others. That was one of the best parts of the experience, making some wonderful friends.

Q: What was your itinerary?

A: We docked in the following places: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Salvador, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; Port Louis, Mauritius; Penang, Malaysia; Chennai, India; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Quingdao, China; Kobe, Japan; and Honolulu, Hawaii. So, by the time we flew back to San Diego, we had gone most of the way around the world.

Q: How did you get to Cambodia?

A: That was a very special part of my trip. That was in connection with our stop in Vietnam. I fell in love with the people of Cambodia and I was extremely touched by the children. I realized I want to work overseas, perhaps in an orphanage in Cambodia. I really feel I want to do that. I saw the killing fields, the skulls, and learned what happened in Cambodia. It touched me very deeply.

Q: The poverty is always such an eye-opener for first-time travelers.

A: It certainly was for me. It was overwhelming and heartbreaking. It was hard to believe some of the poverty I saw in Brazil, South Africa, India and some of the other places. You see how much the people have to struggle to survive. It made me fully realize how much we have in America.

Q: You say you often took trips far afield of the port during your stays in each area. Did you feel safe?

A: We were constantly cautioned about safety, and I went with large groups. You always had to be careful, even though most people were pleasant and helpful. In Brazil, our first stop outside U.S. territory, some of our students were mugged for things like jewelry, cameras and money. One boy had to spend two weeks in a wheelchair, but he was OK. So yes, I was very aware of danger.

Q: What about your health?

A: I endured several periods of sickness. It wasn’t always easy, but I got through it OK and it made me stronger. I remember how hard it get on a bus without air conditioning in India, and the combination of the heat and stench was something I had never experienced. And so many places we went, there were people just everywhere.

Q: Were the people you met positive about America?

A: Yes, but there were negative feelings, too, and people always wanted to talk about the war in Iraq. I’ll never forget the extreme poverty I saw along with the nearby wealth in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was part of our trip, and I was with him in our global studies class. He was fascinating, a great speaker.