“Overwhelming.” Overcome by her emotion, that is the one word Paola Correa could use to describe what it feels like to be on the Fall 2014 voyage. With tears in her eyes, she recalled a time when being out of her bed was a far-off dream. “I don’t have a day to waste,” she said, reflecting on the past three years.
Correa is originally from Colombia but was raised in Fort Lauderdale since she was six years old, not far from where she will disembark the MV Explorer on December 8th. Like many other students, going into her freshman year of college she was excited to meet new friends, discover new passions, and figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
When driving to orientation at the University of Miami, Correa was involved in a major car crash that left her in the hospital unaware of her surroundings. In need of three major surgeries on her legs, doctors were unsure if she would ever walk again. After six months of bed rest she was able to begin the rehabilitation of her injuries and eventually start college with the assistance of a walker and leg braces.
She spent her time in bed planning for life outside her bedroom walls. With a different appreciation of the world around her and a new perspective on life, she was filled with the desire to get out and explore the world. “I wanted to see everything all at once!” she exclaimed.
Challenged by choosing between her health and education, Correa fought through massive pain to start her undergraduate degree. For her, the Semester at Sea program was a dream of mobility and education in one location that still seems surreal. On the ship, for the first time since her accident she did not struggle to fulfill her college education and passion for travel.
Finally having conquered most of her major physical difficulties, she applied to Semester at Sea’s Spring 2014 voyage without telling her family. After being accepted, her parents expressed concerns for her physical condition. She decided to defer her dream temporarily and went out to California for the second summer in a row to intern with Google. With money in her pocket and an improved physical condition when she returned, she went back to her parents and left them no choice but to support her persistence to join the fall voyage that same year.
Since leaving from Southampton, she has left no stone unturned. Taking opportunities to travel overland independently and step outside her comfort zone, she has been living her dream to the fullest. “I want it to be eye opening to not only beautiful things but different things,” she said, of her Atlantic voyage. Thinking back to when both this experience and her independence were a distant dream, she can only be grateful to those family and friends that stood by her side every step of the way. To see her standing in front of you today, you would never know her story, her struggle, and her perseverance to get to this moment. Correa concluded, “It’s a privilege (to be here), and it is an extremely precious opportunity.”