Jessica MacDonald, a 1999 Scarborough High School graduate, spent last semester studying on board a ship visiting China, Myanmar, India and seven other countries.

MacDonald, a student at St. Joseph’s and an employee at Bessworth Child Care, participated in a Semester at Sea, a program that incorporates college classes with direct contact with different cultures.

MacDonald said she had wanted to take the trip since high school and decided to go last fall while she still had the chance.

She left on her around-the-world journey from the Bahamas in late August and returned to the United States in early December, arriving in San Diego.

A semester at sea

While at sea, students spend their onboard time like they would at school, attending classes and socializing in their free time. In port, students have the chance to go sightseeing with a group, travel around on their own, or participate in volunteer opportunities in the host countries.

MacDonald was not looking to simply go sightseeing while on the journey. Instead, she wanted to go to areas where she may never have the opportunity to go again and decided to participate in the community service projects in many of the ports.

It was during these journeys that she was able to visit remote villages that had little modern technology and see dense jungles rarely visited by vacationers.

She also was able to help with different humanitarian programs. In South Africa, she helped Habit for Humanity build a house and visited numerous schools and orphanages in other countries.

During these trips, MacDonald said she especially enjoyed meeting the local people and getting to understand their customs. Often the local people were just as curious about her as she was about them.

This was especially true when she visited South Africa and a group of children played with her hair because they had never met a white person before. “It was nice to go in and meet kids who don’t get a chance to meet visitors,” she said.

MacDonald got the chance to visit some countries that are not included on most American travel itineraries, like Myanmar.

Before getting off the ship in Myanmar, the students were told about what type of things they might encounter while visiting the military dictatorship, but MacDonald found the country and its inhabitants to be fun.

“It was one of my favorite countries because the people were so nice and friendly,” she said.

Experiencing foreign customs

Some of her favorite memories come from the many different schools she visited, including playing soccer at a homeless girls home in South Africa and learning cricket at a school for disabled children in India.

She also had many unique experiences such as living with a family in India and observing their customs, such as not eating with your left hand.

“These are the things I appreciate the most. I wouldn’t get that at home,” she said.

However, she said she remembers the trip best because of the many different sites and sounds she saw and not one particular situation such as seeing a father teaching his son how to beg in China or children’s faces peering from barred windows in India.

The one thing that stood out in most of these countries was the level of poverty affecting these people’s lives and the lack of adequate medical care and yet the children remain happy, she said.

MacDonald came prepared to give presents to the children and said when she started the trip she carried two large duffle bags, one containing her personal items and the other with items to give to the children she met, like toys, stickers and pens.

That attention to helping others has always been a part of MacDonald’s life. While in high school she was a member of the Key Club and remains a Big Sister. She also is a member of the Old Orchard Rescue and also a dispatcher in the town.

With some international community service already completed, MacDonald said she is looking at other opportunities, such as assisting with Habitat for Humanity International.

“It really gives you an itch to help more,” she said.

Jessica MacDonald along with other students from the Semester at Sea program donating a soccer ball to a school in South Africa.Jessica MacDonald playing with some children at Wallacedene Township in South Africa. She was there helping Habitat for Humanity build a house and the children there liked playing with her hair because it was soft and smooth.

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