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Introspection Binge

In just over two weeks I will be on my way to the Bahamas!  I've been thinking about this trip for years and it just seems so surreal that it is so close now.  I have a feeling that the whole first week on the ship I'm going to keep asking myself, "Is this really happening!?!"


I'm not one to get really into posting quotes usually, but I found some good ones to keep in mind during my trip that I wanted to share.










So adventure....how you doin'?


Hot to live life 101







More wisdom from Doctor Who





Whitman, I love you.


Be doing that a lot on this trip.













      As I was putting together this collection of quotes, I started on an introspection binge about where I am in life now and what I'm expecting from the months ahead.  I am quite sure that this trip will change me in many ways and that is a rather large thing to think about.
     If you know me, you probably know that I love collecting things.  Sometimes it's physical things like items for my "collection of strange things" (think things that would belong on the Island of Misfit Toys), but most often it is more in the form of ideas, pictures, and thoughts.  Right now I am setting out to collect pieces of my current self so I can look back after the trip is over.  I guess it's kind of like a time capsule, but not nearly as structured.  I also want to explore my goals for this trip and get myself in the right frame of mind before I begin.  To do this, I have come up with a list of questions I want to write about in the next two weeks before I leave.  This will be fun to look at later and will help me think about where I am and where I want to go.  The questions are:



  • What are your goals for this trip?
  • How do you expect to change on this trip?
  • What are you most looking forward to?
  • What are you most anxious about?
  • What will you miss about home?
  • What will you miss least about home?
  • What are you feeling right now?
  • What are your hopes for this trip?
I'm not going to post my answers on here now, but perhaps after the trip with comments about how things actually went.  :0)




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Holidays and Communication

I  hope that everyone had a fantastic Christmas and/or Chanukah and/or Festivus, and/or Kwanzaa.  For me it was a travel themed Chanukah and Christmas (yep, I'm half and half).  I feel much better prepared for the trip with my shiny new travel sized art supplies, Kindle gift card, collapsible water bottle, book light, and new clothes.  Probably most exciting was the sonic screwdriver to get me out of any sticky situations that don't involve wood and the two seasons of Doctor Who from my parents.

This is a sonic screwdriver in case you were wondering.  It's from Doctor Who.  






My pretty purple collapsible water bottle.  Genius for traveling! 


Koi Travel Watercolor set. Also great for traveling.    







     In other news, I found out more about how I will be able to communicate while on the ship.  This link goes over how to send mail as well as time zones I will be in.  I will also have a satellite phone as well (my doctor is letting me borrow his) but that will probably only be used to call doctors in an emergency or my parents.  Even though it's the cheapest option I could find, the rate is still like $1.24 per minute.  (Yikes!)  The best way to communicate for me will probably be via e-mail.  Even though internet use is severely limited, I will have unlimited access to my shipboard e-mail account!  The e-mail address I will be using isn't live yet, but it will be emily.block.S12@semesteratsea.org.  I would love to hear from you during my trip!


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Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas!  Happy Chanukah!   Thanks for reading!  :0)


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Less than one month!!!!!!

I got a small taste of limited technology use the past two days because my old computer broke.  (RIP Mr. Mackey).  It was slightly annoying but more relaxing than anything.  No computer meant I couldn't waste tons of time on reddit or refreshing the SAS facebook group page.  My productivity went way up.  I hope this bodes well for 108 days with no internet that I've been fearing for months.  Anyway, saying goodbye to my faithful old computer was sad since I've had it for almost six years, but I am relieved that I have a new laptop that won't go kaput in the middle of the ocean.

In case you were wondering my new computer is called Mr. Mackey Jr.


But more importantly, I found out that I was accepted into all of the field programs that I signed up for!  When a field program fills up, the spots are given to people on a lottery system.  Either none of my trips were full or I got lucky because I'm good to go!  :0)  Here is the final list:



The time until SAS gets shorter as does my SAS related to do list.  I sent in my medical history form on Monday and will send a copy of my transcripts in to SAS tomorrow.  I have to go over the embarkation paperwork and the Vicarious Voyage paperwork tomorrow as well.  On Thursday I have what I hope will be my last doctor's appointment before I head off.  I'm going to ask about going to high altitude (Tibet) with dysautonomia/medications and I need to get prescriptions for 110+ days of my meddies.  I'm actually not sure how that process works, but I imagine that there is some protocol in place for situations like this.  I'll have to report back when I find out.  Best of all, I finally get to start thinking about packing.  I'm not quite going to pull out the suitcases yet, but I am starting with my packing strategy.  (Which mainly consists of trying to convince myself that I don't need to bring my whole room with me.)

Less than one month to go!!!!!!!    

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T minus 34 Days and Counting!

     First of all, a little update on my first world problems.  :0)  I finished finals and am almost done with my grad school apps.  I can't wait to click the submit button and get some quality family time in during the holidays.  I've pretty much  been a grumpy hermit locked in my room trying to get everything done, and am really missing out on spending time with them.  Almost there!



My awesome family just for the record. 

      Now onto the real stuff.  I wanted to share this awesome program I get to take part in during the trip called Vicarious Voyage.  Usually SAS sailors get paired up with a classroom to correspond with during the voyage.  I'm doing things a little differently (what's new) and have been paired up with a group for chronically ill kids and young adults instead.  I'm really excited because it's never been done before and I think it will work out really well.  One thing most people don't realize about being sick is that it is way stinking boring.  I would read travel blogs during my bed-bound days and it helped pass the time.  Now I'm hoping to give back.  (No way to make that sound less corny...)  The group I chose was, of course, the Dysautonomia Youth Network of America.  I've been a part of the group since my own dysautonomia diagnosis in 2008 and will really enjoy working with them.  One more excellent thing to be excited about.



     Just really quick before I sign off to finish those grad school apps, I wanted to let you know that you can subscribe to my blog via e-mail!  (You don't have to be a blogger member to get updates.)  There is a box on the right hand side under the blog's archive where you can sign up.   

Here is an obnoxiously large arrow for your convenience.  


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First World Problems

  

Oh my goodness the stress!  (Hence the 4:45am insomnia post.)  That to-do list of mine just keeps getting longer and yet time until departure keeps getting shorter. 




 Don't get me wrong, I absolutely can't wait for this thing to start, but I wish I had more time to do everything I need to do first!  Just the SAS preparation stuff alone actually isn't that much.  I pretty much just have to send in a few more forms, find home stay gifts, finish up various projects, and start to think about packing.  Not too bad if you don't count the hours I want to spend obsessing about the trip.  However I also have finals this week, holiday shopping, daily life stuff (library, errands, cleaning, etc.) and am spur the moment applying to graduate school.  That's a lot for a girl who is used to being able to do only one thing every day.   Of course everything I just mentioned would be under the category of first world problems.  :0)

For more first world problems Click Here

  In other news, I am officially 100% signed up for field programs!  There was definitely a bit of sticker shock once all of the costs were tallied up, but it was actually about two thousand dollars less than I anticipated.  (YAY!) Also, the prices really aren't that bad for each individual trip.  It isn't like a regular cruise where the lowest priced option is several hundred dollars.  Since SAS is a non-profit, the prices are incredibly reasonable, even under $10 sometimes.  (Most day trips are between $40 and $150.)  Traveling independently would probably still be cheaper because you could put together budget transportation and accommodations, but I like the security of traveling with SAS and having everything planned out ahead of time.  

  I saved the best for last in this post.  The current SAS voyage put together this awesome video that entertains as well as gives a tour of the ship.  Definitely worth watching!  I really hope that our voyage does something epic like this.

       



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More Preparation

I have reached another milestone in the form of getting all of my medical things out of the way. I had my pre-trip physical last week, got my medical release form all filled out, and recived my perscription for my 90 Malarone pills to ward off the evil bugger malaria.

My interpretation of what evil malaria looks like.

 I also got approval to have the yellow fever vaccine even thought it is a live virus. I had the vaccine on Monday and unfortunately was sick within three hours. It appears to only be an immune system reaction with a low fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue. I've spend much of the last few days sleeping and had to miss a concert yesteday and class today. :0( It is all worth it of course, but right now I feel really crummy.

The past few days have also been very productive on the field programs and class schedule front.  I talked to Debbie from the field programs office (seriously one of the nicest people I've ever talked to) and she helped me figure out the accessibility of the field programs I'm interested in.  I was really happy that we shared the philosophy of using creativity to make things work.   She told me many stories of people in wheelchairs who were able to do things normally not thought to be accessible with help and planning.  I really appreciate this because so many people will label a whole trip inaccessible if there are like two stairs.  Since I walk most of the time, that would actually not be a problem for me.  After chatting with her, I decided that pretty much everything I was thinking of signing up for would be doable with the exception of the trip to Cambodia.  I guess the weather at the time of year we would be there is pretty excruciating.  Even with my cooling vest, it probably wouldn't be the best place for me to be.  I am a little disappointed, but also excited for the time it freed up in Vietnam.
The thing that started my SAS binge today (visiting the facebook group, checking the website, blogging, planning field programs, etc...) was a class opening up that I have really wanted to take.  Some amazingly awesome person dropped International Service Learning and posted the opening on the facebook group.  I guess I was lucky enough to be the first person to see the post so I got the spot! This class is in very high demand and I was sure I wouldnt' be able to take it.  Speaking of classes, here are the ones I'm taking:
The professors had to beat out lots of competition to get the position so I hear that the classes are phenomenal   Each class is different in how they are structured, but it is usually similar to any other campus with tests, papers, and presentations.  The exception, of course, is that at least 20% of our grade is based on our participation in field programs.  The faculty will lead these trips (or approve of other trips) so that class material in integrated with our experience.  For most classes, we will be keeping journals and making presentations based on these programs and individual research.  I'm really excited that the trip will be so academic.  I feel like the program is set up for students to learn the most while having great adventures.


Every single day I  have a moment or two where it hits me that this is really happening.  There is all the stress and focus on getting forms filled out and planning every detail (not to mention regular school work and applying to grad school), but then there are these moments when I stop and realize how amazing this is going to be.  I feel so fortunate that I am able to do this from both a financial and health standpoint.  It seems too good to be true, and yet, in two months I will be on the boat!

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Field Programs!

OMG!!!!                Field Programs!


After what seemed like an agonizing wait of postponements, the filed programs are finally up! I have to say that the extra time it took to put these together was well worth it. The options are better and cheaper than what I was expecting. I don't know if it was a coincidence or not, but a lot of the things students expressed interest in on our facebook wall ended up being SAS field programs. The filed programs are basically the trips that SAS offers at each destination. Some are faculty led which we have to go on for our classes and some are led by local tour companies. We also have the option of booking our own tours or traveling independently, but I'm sticking to SAS tours for the most part.

One pro about sticking to the SAS tours is that they will do everything in their power to make them accessible. I know that pretty much all of the transportation is wheelchair accessible, even if SAS has to do some finagling to get busses with wheelchair lifts. Luckily, I can transfer so I won't be needing this, but it is nice to know. I plan on contacting the field program office this week to go over the trips I am interested in and to what extend they will be accessible. Also, most transportation and accommodation is air conditioned which will dramatically improve my endurance.

I am doing one trip in Africa that is not put on by SAS and I already see a potential problem. The trip is pretty awesome and will include touring a facility that raises cheetahs, tigers, and lions. Unfortunately the website states that people with disabilities are not welcome and if they find out you are disabled, they will keep your money and not let you participate. Supposedly it is for safety reasons, but placing a blanket ban on anyone with disabilities shows a huge lack of understanding. The moral part of me really wants to boycott the facility due to it's policy regarding people with disabilities, but the selfish part of me wants to go anyway. I have the luxury of having a mostly invisible disability so I could probably do this and no one would notice. Right now the plan is for me to participate and then talk to the manager of the facility afterwards about the unfair policy. I hope to show them that I successfully participated with a disability and in light of this perhaps they should change their policy.

FIGHT THE POWER!



There are so many exciting options offered by SAS and I would love to go into detail of exactly what I am going to sign up for, but that would result in a small novel of text and limit the surprise factor for later. :0) Here are some hi-light though:

A Safari near Kruger National Park! The tent style accommodation looks really fun and there is also lots to do in the area including visiting an endangered species rehabilitation center.



Many service visits working with local and international groups. The service visits include things like cooking meals for orphanages, volunteering for Operation Hunger, and providing activities for kids who are disabled.



A 6 day tour of TIBET!!!! and China. I have to admit I am worried about the altitude for some of the trip, but I won't know if I can do it until I try.




Lots of home-stays and village visits where local people will share culture, daily lives, and noms!



Coming back to the present (oh so difficult with sailing in the near future!), I am almost done with trip preparations. I went to get my vaccinations on Wednesday and ended up only needing typhoid, meningitis, and the flu shot. I still need to get my yellow fever shot, but that is posing a little bit of a problem. Since I have taken medicine in the past that would lower my immune system (and being sick in general tends to lower it) I try to avoid live virus vaccines. Unfortunately the yellow fever vaccine is only available as a live virus vaccine and I absolutely have to have it to get off of the boat in at least two of the countries. I did some research and decided to go ahead and get the vaccine (I don't appear to be at much more risk for side effect than anyone else). Since the travel clinic knows my medical history, I have to go to my internist and get a note from him that I can have the shot. It's quite a bit of hassle, but worth it to keep people safe. The travel clinic also gave me a huge list of potential hazards in every place I'm visiting. That combined with having taken a few infection diseases classes is enough to make even an easy going person a little paranoid. I will definitely be loading up on the bug spray with DEET, purchasing the insect repellant spray for clothing, and staying well away from wild animals. The last one will be difficult for me because I have a hard time resisting petting a friendly animal. (This may or may not be how I was bitten by a kangaroo...)


Danger? What danger?


I am still looking for gifts for my home-stay families, but I did order the popping thingies from the Oriental Trading Company which should arrive in a few days. I was also thinking of bringing pennies and nickels to hand out since it can be kind of cool to have currency from other countries.

Every day I just keep getting more and more excited!

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Less than 60 Days to Go!!!!

Right now 60 days seems like an eternity, another lifetime away. I wish I could speed up time and be on that ship now!
Anyone got a Tardis they could spare? I'm trying to immerse myself in getting ready and enjoying the holidays as a distraction and I would say it is working marginally well. The getting ready part is quite a job actually. Since my parents had handled everything when we traveled in the past, all of the visas, vaccinations, reservation making, etc. is a huge wake up call for me. To make sure I stay organized I have a SAS to do list. Luckily, I am making some good progress. Here is what the list looks like:



I also check the SAS facebook group every day to stay caught up on news and "meet" people before we actually get to the ship. So far everyone seems really nice and excited for the trip. Someone even made a website for us that organizes our discussions and has lots of links to great resources.

Because I have an inborn tendency to create projects for myself, I guess it isn't surprising that several projects have sprung up around my trip. As I mentioned before, I'm making a picture book to help with communication. Here's a page from it:



I'll laminate the pages and then put them all on a flash card ring so they are durable and easily accessible. I don't plan on using it much but it would be nice to have in a pinch. (As I learned when my family's car broke down in rural France. Imagine trying to say you accidentally put diesel in a non diesel engine by hand gestures...)

I'm also working on hand-binding a leather journal that was going along well until I got my right arm casted (due to a wrist dislocation). Now it's sitting on my desk and patiently waiting until I can finish it. I'm modeling it after River Song's diary from Doctor Who and so far it looks pretty good.

I always like to bring little trinkets to give to people when I travel and am in the process of finding things to bring. So far I have sparkly bracelets for girls, those things that you blow into and the curly part shoots out, and some sets of marbels. I am thinking of also getting a large pack of popping balls for giving out to large groups of kids. That just leaves some gifts for my homestay families and I'll be all set. I'm having trouble coming up with what to get, so if you have any ideas, please send me a message!
What I mean by popping balls and the blowy party favors (they are surprisingly difficult to describe despite the fact that we all know what they are):



I think that's about it for now. :0) Just more waiting and getting ready for me.

TTFN

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My First Post!

Even though I don't set sail for a little under three months, my Semester at Sea (SAS) journey really started over four years ago. I'll start my blog there to help put things in perspective. :0)



I first heard about SAS from another vendor at a study abroad fair during my sophomore year in college. As I was touring the various booths, the SAS brochure jumped out at me. I talked to the representative at the booth and knew within a few minutes that I would do everything possible to get me on one of those ships someday. The representative was really nice and gave me one of his last DVD's since I was so interested. I remember calling my mom later that evening and saying how much I wanted to go on the trip. I knew it would be a difficult thing to accomplish, but I didn't know yet just how difficult.



Four days after I first heard about SAS, I found myself in the emergency room with what I thought was a strange flu. After many tests and doctors appointments over the next few days it was discovered that I actually had suffered a stroke. As you can imagine, I was quite shocked since up until that point I was a healthy and energetic student and competitive soccer player. I found out that the stroke was due to a hole in my heart which I had closed through a fairly simple procedure on Halloween, 2007.
Though the procedure was a success and I have not had any more strokes, my health continued to deteriorate. At one point I was so weak and uncoordinated that I needed help to sit up. I remember watching the SAS promotional DVD and crying because I thought I would never be able to do something like that now that I was so sick.



Over the next several years (and MANY doctors/hospitals) I found out that I had a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which causes the collagen in the body to not work right. This set me up for frequent injuries (usually joint dislocations) and vascular complications including the hole in my heart that led to the strokes. I also found out that I had a condition called dysautonomia which is where the autonomic nervous system does not work correctly. With the help of hard work and up to 17 medications a day, I saw an excellent recovery from the stroke. Within just four months of the stroke, I was walking short distances and had good enough coordination that hardly anyone would notice anything was wrong with me. The dysautonomia symptoms became my main hinderance because I felt like I had the flu or was about to pass out most of the time. I also began to have episodic weakness and seizure like episodes (I would shake but still be fully conscious.) Daily life was an enormous struggle, but I was able to back to school and continue my rehabilitation exercises. I was still in my wheelchair about 80% of the time when I left the house/dorm, but I did see slow improvements in my endurance and ability to stay upright without blacking out.



Through all this, I still kept studying abroad in my mind. I signed up for a summer program in London but was not able to attend due to complications from a digestive surgery. This was a huge blow, but a few months after I would have been studying in London, I began to casually look into other study abroad programs. I emailed and called countless offices inquiring about the accessibility of the program. Only one program got back to me with a response other than, "You can't participate in this program," and that was Semester at Sea. I learned that many students with mobility impairments and health conditions have successfully traveled on the ship in the past and that the shipboard lifestyle would work well with my limitations. For months I was going back and forth with the decision to apply. On one hand, I knew that it would be the trip of a lifetime and probably the only chance I would get to see some of these places, on the other, my doctors did not think I should go and my parents needed much convincing. I looked up to the later group as the people who got me through the last few years so it was very difficult for me to not just go along with what they suggested. I finally made up my mind that I would go and submitted my application last summer. It was a huge relief that the decision was made and I set about giving myself every opportunity to be successful on the trip.



One of the avenues I pursued to make my health more stable was looking into cutting edge medicine for my conditions. Not long after I applied, new research was released that suggested that most of my more frustrating symptoms could be caused by defects in the veins in my neck. I already knew I had the defect mentioned (formerly called chronic cerebrospinal insufficiency or CCSVI) so I scoured the internet looking for doctors who were treating this. I was lucky enough to find such a doctor almost in my own backyard. I sent him my medical records and he agreed to take me on as a patient. Two days before my 23rd birthday I had the appointment where he told me that the CCSVI could be causing all of my problems (except for the underlying genetic disorder) and that I could see a great improvement in my health if I had the surgery to fix the veins. I of course opted for this experimental treatment and had the surgery within a month on October 14, 2011.


This brings me to today where i can say that the surgery was an enormous success. Within two days after the surgery I was better off than before, even though I was still technically recovering. I have enjoyed spending the last couple of weeks with greatly increased energy levels and ability to remain upright. My wheelchair has been collecting dust unused in the back of my Mom's car. Though I was already committed to making SAS work, this new improvement will allow me even more opportunities. I still am not completely healthy but I have the next three months to continue to improve and am determined to use the adaptability that I have learned from the past four years to successfully travel with SAS.



Just the process to apply and get ready for SAS has been a thrill and a bit stressful. As the trip gets closer and I get more excited, I wish time would speed up and get me on that boat!



Too Long Didn't Read Summary: I got REALLY sick four years ago. I'm healthy enough now that I will have the amazing opportunity to travel the world via Semester At Sea. My health and mobility impairments will provide challenges, but I know that I am ready to take them on.



I also want to thank many people who have made this trip possible. I'll do my best to not make it sound like an acceptance speech...actually I don't think there's any way around that. haha I want to thank my family, especially my parents and brother who have encouraged me to pursue my dreams (once I convinced them that I would be safe). Without them I would not have gotten through this illness, let alone have the confidence and means to travel with SAS. I also want to thank the generous donors who have provided several scholarships that makes this trip possible. I want to thank the wonderful doctors and health care professionals who have treated me and helped me through some pretty rough times (especially Dr. Madej, Dr. Banks, Dr. Brown, Dr. Dake, Dr. Driscoll, Med Stop Urgent Care in San Luis Obispo, and the team at Mayo.) I want to thank the wonderful people who I have met through International Club (and Honors Program) at Cal Poly who inspired me to be a citizen of the world. I want to thank the Cal Poly Disability Resource Center (especially Jennifer) who not only helped me get through school, but also helped me research study abroad options and taught me how to be a strong advocate for myself. I want to thank my professors who went above and beyond with accommodations to help me get through school. Finally, I want to thank my amazing friends, spoonies, and DYNA family for always being a positive influence in my life and cheering me on. Without them I wouldn't be where I am today. (Which is a pretty awesome place, by the way.)

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