As we enter our tenth day at sea, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and Africa, and head towards South America, I am very aware that Semester At Sea is quite a different and unique study abroad experience. Unlike any other study abroad program, it offers a college semester traveling by sea on a large cruise ship to eleven different countries, and three continents in the span of three plus months. While on the ship, more than four hundred students are taking classes, studying, exercising, eating and socializing while traversing the globe. When you arrive at each new port, you become immersed in a new culture through required field classes, optional travel programs, or free time to explore on your own or with a group.
This experience does not make classes any easier, or the experience any more beneficial than other study abroad programs; instead it offers a unique way to study and travel. There are amazing opportunities while at sea, however, the biggest challenge has been adjusting to life on a ship. The living spaces are small, and focusing on a teacher’s lecture can be extremely difficult when the seas are rough and you are seasick! Even on a large ship, the best traveler can become nauseous once or twice, which makes focusing, let alone getting out of bed, almost impossible. Another challenge is the limited WIFI on the ship. We are only allotted seven minutes of WIFI a day, which makes it very difficult to keep up with friends and family while sailing.
However, the positives of this experience heavily outweigh the negatives. With a shipboard community of nearly four hundred and fifty students, you become very close with the people around you. I have made many new friends from all over the United States, and from around the world. Living in such close quarters with students and teachers from all walks of life has really helped me reach beyond and outside of my comfort zone, and enhanced my appreciation of others’ values, beliefs and personalities.
This close knit ship environment also encourages students to interact daily with our professors, who become not only our teachers, but also our friends. They, in essence, become our second parents, who teach, exercise, give advice, dine and occasionally share an evening cocktail with us! This is an amazing community environment, and a very different way of education. The classes are not just taught by the subject you are taking, but also enhanced with a global discussion of the culture, politics, history, geography and general information of each country we are visiting.
I have enjoyed taking Oceanography as a science class, which has provided me with the opportunity to study the ocean life, the mangroves, and the local marine environment for each area we travel to. I have learned that marine lives are vastly different in Africa than they are in Europe, and each new place we visit.
One of my favorite experiences of this voyage has been the opportunity to experience the food from different cultures all around the world. Even though the ship food is probably as institutionally awful as the food we have to eat at Hampden-Sydney’s, “Moans”, the foods we have experienced off the ship has been amazing! I have enjoyed Croatian pastries, “bureks” from street vendors and bakeries, filled with sweet fruit, rich cheese or savory meats; then shared tagine chicken and couscous under a tent after traveling through the Saharan Desert of Morocco by camel. I have been served a homemade meal of beans and fish, while staying in a seaside village hut in Ghana, but favor the local plantains they serve boiled, grilled or fried. My next stop is Brazil, and I am most excited for my next meal off this ship, and maybe at a Brazilian steak house!
Sailing across the Atlantic from Europe and Africa, it is hard to believe that I am almost half way through my journey. I am looking forward to the sights, sounds, people, art, culture and food of Brazil, Ecuador, Trinidad, Tobago and Costa Rica. I have been on this voyage for about two months now, and I have made new friends from all over the world, and formed connections and experiences that I will have for the rest of my life.