A Semester at Sea

09/23/2011 01:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 23, 2011

There was a clear sense of unease in their every interaction. Their eyes darted too quickly, looking not at each other but instead past one another.

That mix of nervous anticipation and unbridled excitement reminded me of freshman orientation, but for the hundreds of students aboard the MV Explorer this semester, they are experiencing a cultural baptism by sea.

Over the past several weeks I ventured from Morocco to Ghana as a guest lecturer on the Fall 2011 Semester at Sea voyage, the very same study abroad program I joined in the spring of 2005 as a junior in college.

I expected to engage students in our organization (Pencils of Promise) and perhaps inspire a few to change their career trajectories. What happened though was completely unexpected: They inspired me in return.

Through countless conversations with students from every type of university and background, I heard a common thread emerge. Although their ideas and interests often diverged, every student I spoke to brimmed with an intersecting characteristic. Ambition.

That relentless desire to make a difference in the world was what I found most evident on the ship. While many consider the millennial generation to be lazy slactivists, the individuals I encountered possessed a dogged determination in their pursuit of purpose.

After days of these conversations, I decided to request the presence of a few students as a focus group for a brainstorming session on the future of Pencils of Promise. We are an organization fueled by youth, so what better group to poll than a few college students? It was arranged for 10pm. I hoped 15 students would attend; instead 150 showed up and stayed until 1am.

When we arrived in Ghana I departed from the ship and began a series of travels to remote villages where PoP might one day build schools. While meeting with the mayor of the Volta Region, one of the country's poorest areas, I was struck by the same ambition in his tone that I'd heard just days earlier on the ship.

He too, believed that his single effort when joined with others could create change. Imagine that, young people from the states and leaders in the developing world sharing the same belief that they could make the world better.

Now it's up to us to bring them together.