Episode 70 │ Sailing Seas, & Samba Is King (SHE'S SO REEL)
"I feel like my experience before was more closed-in, just living here in America. And when you see the outside world it's a totally different approach and interaction overall." (AJ, Episode 70)
(Announcement #1: As mentioned previously, this is the last regular episode of this podcast in 2020. I'll be closing out the year next week with another one of my "Ten Cents" episodes on Monday, November 2nd.
Would you look at that? We've reached 70 episodes of Young, Gifted and Abroad! And for our 70th guest/the last guest of 2020, we've got someone who studied abroad on a cruise ship! Anjuli or AJ Joyce is a delightful soul that I connected with via a certain Facebook group (you know the one) when I was seeking new guests over the summer, and we did this interview in August. These days, she's the creator and host of a podcast called She's So Reel, where she interviews various women who work in the entertainment industry. Back when she was an undergraduate student, AJ visited over 10 countries through a program called Semester at Sea.
Originally from Denver, Colorado, AJ moved to Texas to attend the University of Houston. She majored in anthropology, and for a while she had aspirations of being "the Black Indiana Jones". (I thought this was fascinating, and so after the interview I emailed to ask her about her motivation. She replied, "I just never saw a lot of Black female archaeologists like that or in that field more. I aspired to be that for a long time until I realized that wasn't my true passion and that's okay.") It turns out that one of AJ's new passions was planning student events, which eventually translated into a career in event planning and catering after graduation.
Another new thing that came across AJ's radar during her student years was Semester at Sea (SAS), a program where students live and take classes on a cruise ship while docking off in various countries during their journey. AJ heard about SAS from a friend who'd done it, and she was intrigued by the possibility of visiting multiple countries in one go as opposed to being limited to one location with most other study abroad programs. Though she had traveled internationally to places like Germany and Mexico before, she had a feeling that SAS would be something different entirely. In fact, AJ was so eager to go on this trip that she stayed at the University of Houston for an extra year. She didn't know how to swim, had never been on a ship before, and was known to have motion sickness, but no matter! She was determined to go on this trip, and set sail on SAS's MV Explorer with a cohort of students, teachers, and staff in the autumn of 2014.
AJ's voyage started out in London, England and was officially titled an "Atlantic Exploration" which consisted mostly of European countries, including: France, Portugal, Poland, Spain, Italy, Russia, and more. While on the ship, students took courses based on their own interests and whichever credits would transfer back to their home universities. Since AJ had already fulfilled her major degree requirements, she took electives including drawing, art history, and math.
In order for the students to understand the history of the transatlantic slave trade, the group was initially supposed to spend time in West Africa (specifically Ghana and Senegal) before moving on to Brazil. Unfortunately, those West Africa plans were scrapped due to Ebola virus concerns. However, AJ's group did go to Morocco, and the ship made its way over to Brazil as planned. Brazil is where AJ recalls feeling the most at home, even more so than she sometimes feels in the States. She couldn't help but mention Beyoncé's Black Is King film when telling me about the enduring African traditions and influences she noticed in Brazilian culture, as well as how connected she felt to the Afro-Brazilians she encountered. From Brazil, the ship stopped in Barbados and Cuba, and the semester ended with the group disembarking in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
When I asked AJ about her favorite country among the ones she visited with SAS, she gave me her top three and started from the bottom of the list. First was Italy, which she appreciated for its history, its beauty, and the "grand spankin' time" she had there with a bunch of her friends. Next highest was Morocco, whose flea markets were a perfect opportunity for her to do two things she loves: bargaining and meeting local people one-on-one. And her absolute favorite was Brazil, for the aforementioned reasons. By contrast, AJ had no problem whittling it down when I asked about her least favorite place, which was Paris, France. While she could understand the appeal of countryside areas of France, the City of Lights left much to be desired. She did many of the touristy things that people hype Paris up for, but none of them impressed her. Additionally, the attitudes and communication issues she experienced when interacting with Parisians were the biggest turn-off.
"Get off the ship!"
Even with disappointments like Paris and the hassle of needing ample ginger chews and Dramamine on hand for whenever seasickness occurred, AJ adjusted to every new experience like a champ. Overall she had an awesome time, so much so that to this day she happily insists, "I don't have any regrets." Of the handful of takeaways and lessons she shared with me, she advised that students who do SAS or any other cruise can avoid wasting their life and their time if they "Get off the ship!" and remain open-minded about every facet of the journey.
AJ continued to stay in Houston after graduating and has been living there for eight or nine years now. After working in catering and event planning for a number of years, she was in the process of transitioning into graphic/web design when I spoke to her. As an informed enthusiast and aspiring expert on the entertainment industry, AJ also ran a film review podcast called What Size Drink? before re-branding and launching She's So Reel in 2020. She saw that there weren't a ton of podcasts focused on women in film, TV, music, etc., and there are a lot of discrepancies women face in these sectors which most people are unaware of. With that in mind, AJ decided to give such women a platform in her own way. Ideally, she'll strike a balance between interviewing independent artists and other people who work in entertainment, while also featuring big-name guests who are known throughout the industry at large. Furthermore, she explained to me that while Austin currently has a larger presence when it comes to events and music scenes, Houston is also turning heads now more than ever. Through the interviews she does for her podcast in addition to her own research, AJ hopes to dig into more of the phenomenal local artists that Houston has to offer.
Like many people, AJ had travel plans in 2020 that eventually had to be cancelled. She was set to go to Japan in autumn and was eyeing the Caribbean this year as well, but now both of those trips will have to wait until the coronavirus no longer poses such severe travel concerns. In the meantime, she's considering take a trip to do outdoorsy things in her hometown of Denver, and is looking forward to marrying her fiancé in May 2021. AJ can be found on her podcast's website (shessoreel.com), on Instagram (@ajsoreel), and @shessoreel on Facebook and Twitter.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Sailing Seas, & Samba Is King (SHE'S SO REEL)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
"Meet the MV Explorer" (blog)
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.