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The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Nine — Semester at Sea, The Sahara Desert

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Nine — Semester at Sea, The Sahara Desert

By John Cutshall
Update 3

We had to wake up before the sun had even peaked over the brim of the ocean. Half extremely tired, and half excited, I made my way off of the ship and to the entrance of the port with about 100 other students. There waiting for us were two large buses that were going to take us to our next destination: The Sahara Desert. Although the trip was pretty well explained to me before I purchased a ticket, I was not prepared for what was going to come. My trip to the Sahara Dessert is one of my fondest memories of my Semester at Sea.

After escaping the hot Moroccan air and settling into my seat, I was ready for my adventure into the middle of the desert. The bus jolted suddenly and we were on our way. Originally, I was told that the bus ride was going to take around 8 hours. I am not the kind of person that can sit down for long periods of time easily, so I wearily agreed to this condition. After a few hours on the bus we stopped in Marrakesh to get some food for lunch which was really awesome. Then it was onto the dessert. Along the way we passed over the Atlas mountains, which displayed some of the most unique desert landscape that I have ever seen. The bus ride seemed to go on forever and finally we were approaching the 12 hour mark on the bus. Everyone was starting to get a bit nervous, and there was even talk of calling the ship for help. I remained calm, along with those around me, and after another two hours we reached our destination. It was completely dark out and we were far away from the nearest city. Awaiting for me as I got off the bus was a tall four legged creature. Cautiously, I went up to the camel and pet him. All of the camels were laying down and we hopped on them. With a call from their master they all stood up suddenly. It was not a smooth transition, but instead, a rough, awkward one. Most of the girls were screaming in terror, as the guys looked on and had a laugh. We rode the camels for about an hour further into the desert where we saw our camp and stayed for the night. Right next to the camp stood a large sand dune which we all climbed. Most of us were strangers, but we were very good friends after only a week of knowing each other. We all laid on the sand dune, looking up at the most brilliant night sky that I have ever seen. There was no light anywhere within sight and the stars were amazingly bright and clear. It was here that we stayed for the night.

We awoke early the next morning and had a traditional Moroccan breakfast. We jumped back on our camels and headed back to where the buses were. There were small children there that had made animals out of some sort of plant and were trying to sell them to us. I bought one that was the shape of a camel. The interesting part about the children selling these was that the men who owned the camels didn’t like them very much. It was almost a game where they would run away whenever one of the men got too close to them. It was very interesting to watch. We headed back to Marrakesh and stayed there for the night. The hostel that we stayed in was not the nicest place that I have been. It was located in the back of a dark ally. That evening we went to the main square for dinner. There were thousands of people in the square. There were merchants, restaurants, and everything in-between. After spending the night, it was a short train ride back to the ship. Seeing the ship after traveling for awhile is one of the greatest experiences ever. The ship was quite literally my home for four months. My friends, room, and belongings were all on this ship and that is what made it home. It was the best sight in the world after being away for two nights.

The experience of Semester at Sea didn’t hit me right when I got on the ship. It wasn’t until I was lying beneath the stars in the middle of the Sahara dessert that I realized I was on this amazing life-changing trip. My experience in the Sahara was truly unique and I will never forget it. After Morocco we headed to Ghana where we explored jungles, swam under 200 foot waterfalls, and fed wild monkeys from our hands. I can’t wait to share my experience in Ghana with you next time.

Photo 1- Atlas Mountains
Photo 2- Marrakesh Square
Photo 3- With new friends on top of the sand dune
Photo 4- Right before hopping on my camel

For all of the North Star Project Summer Reports, see HERE

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:


This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Professor Hong-Ming Liang