Jillian Amatt was a Class Afloat student on our ’94/95 voyage aboard the Concordia. She submitted this reflective blog post for us to share.
In 2017, at the age of 40 years old, I decided that I wanted to sell all of my possessions and hit the road travelling. I had lived my adult years trying to fit into the mold of society. I went to college, got married, built a business (or 5!), bought a house, tried to have kids (thankfully that part didn’t work!). On the surface, I was just a regular everyday civilian.
It’s a familiar story for most of society. But the problem was that I was living a lie. None of my friends in my then current life even knew of my travelling history. I had tucked it away and buried it deep down. I felt as though nobody could ever understand the depth and breadth of my life, so I felt it easier to just try and fit in.
But the problem was that I wasn’t an ordinary everyday civilian. I had had this experience at a very young age, and it changed me on a cellular level. I realize now that I could never be ordinary after having the experience I did on Class Afloat.
It’s been almost 27 years now since I graduated from Class Afloat. It’s impossible to accept that in my mind. I still can see myself perched on the bridge for watch. Leaning on the railing and staring up at the night sky, the billions of stars twinkling back at me.
I can still see and hear the Bosun calling out the sail maneuvers. I can still feel the vibration of the rust buster and smell the fumes from the paint locker.
I still feel the tension in my legs and muscles when I recall climbing the mast to do sail maneuvers on a rocky sea. I can feel the pain in my fingers from hanging on so tight, despite the fact that we were clipped in and safe.
I still feel the heaviness of my eyelids as I struggled to keep them open during classes. And I’m still traumatized by hair balls after having to pull massive ones out the scuppers on ship cleaning days!
I could write of my memories of Class Afloat for days. And how interesting is it that there is so much of life that is forgotten? But not these memories. My moments on Concordia while sailing around the world with, what were originally, 60 some strangers, will never be forgotten.
It took me many years to quantify my experience with Class Afloat. Initially when I left the boat, as most do, I felt lost and confused. None of my friends back home understood my experience, and the ones that did were now back in their homes, scattered around the world. We didn’t have the internet to keep in touch. There was no face time, Facebook, or texting each other. If we wanted to ‘hang out’ with these friends, our only option was hand written letters or phone calls.
What were we to do with this experience? In speaking with many of my ‘floaty’ friends, the sentiments are the same. Many of us experienced the same feeling of loss. We had just experienced such intensity in our lives, how could the rest of our lives ever stack up to that experience?
But, like all things in life, we do move on and move forward, in one way or the other.
As a small town girl, Class Afloat taught me so many things. One that stands out, though, is that I had never had to make new friends before, as I had always had the same friends in school from a very young age. Recently, while going through some of my old writings from Class Afloat, I came across letters to my parents at the beginning of the trip where I expressed my surprise at how easy it was to do so. Little did I know that those friends would soon become family members.
The community that was built on that ship is something that surely stands out to me. We all had each others backs. We knew that we were all in it together and the strength of those bonds still stand today. We had a Zoom reunion in 2020, 25 years after graduating. Of course, it was meant to be an in person gathering, but Covid had other plans.
But during the call I couldn’t help but truly look into each persons eyes. No matter how many years had passed, I could still see each person as I remembered them so many years before. You get to know people on a very deep level in an environment like Class Afloat provides. There is no masking who you are, and you can’t pretend.
But I digress, I haven’t even spoken about the places that we visited! The cultural experiences and lessons that we learned are far reaching. Despite travelling extensively with my parents in my youth, these experiences were different.
Travelling as a tourist, then travelling the way that you do with Class Afloat, is a completely different experience. Through the programs that they provided for us, we were able to more fully integrate into the communities that we visited. We sometimes took part in their day to day lives, we learned how they made it from one day to the next, and we saw people as just that, people.
For me, Class Afloat brought down the barriers that I might have had between my life and the lives of others. I realized through it all, that we are all the same. We are mostly all just taking life one day at a time, and trying to do the best that we can on this planet.
In my adult years, I have never enjoyed the typical tourist experience. I MUCH prefer to get down on street level, walk the tiny streets through residential areas, and shop at local markets. I want to see how people actually live, and I do believe that Class Afloat sparked that wonder in me.
These days, my partner and I travel full time. I realized that I was tired of pretending that I liked my normal day to day life. I needed to get out and see the world, to meet people, to interact with humanity. I needed to start satisfying my curiosity once again.
Now that I have a few years under my belt, I can look back and see Class Afloat as a pivotal point in my young life. Programs like Class Afloat are what are helping humanity to move forward in these challenging times. By pulling down barriers and by helping young minds to fully understand other people, cultures, and ways of doing things, we will achieve peace in the world.
I will forever be grateful for my experience with Class Afloat. It’s a huge experience to have to deal with at such a young age, but it is one that has certainly shaped me into the person I am today.