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Semester at Sea

Adam Kong is a senior majoring in World Economy and Business. He spent last summer touring the world on the Semester at Sea study abroad program. Here is his story.

"Semester at Sea is a study abroad program that offers a unique traveling experience to its participants. Consisting of a 100 day voyage around the world (66 if on the Summer Voyage), 700 college students live and study on a ship while visiting up to 13 countries in the span of three months. Advocates attribute it to a once in a lifetime experience as it gives students the opportunity to experience the world while earning class credit towards their respective degrees. On the other hand, critics tend to stress the word "cruise" and argue the legitimacy of a study abroad aboard a former cruise ship consisting of 700 19‐21 year olds. With several controversial nicknames, it is understandable why there is some hesitancy to fully endorse such a program.

During the summer of 2011, I embarked on Semester at Sea and found out first‐hand what it was all about.

Beginning in mid‐June, I recalled my initial feelings of nervousness… anxiety…but also excitement. From the minute I boarded the plane, I began meeting my fellow shipmates. It amazed me how geographically widespread the student body was. Every state was represented and even a few foreign countries. In the process of meeting everyone, I quickly discovered the high percentage of Greek life affiliation among participants. A quick walk through the halls revealed an endless supply of three lettered brightly colored tank tops. Another realization I made was just how relaxing life on the ship could be, making departure exceptionally difficult. For many people, their days revolved around classes, tanning, sports, and special social evenings, where with drink vouchers, students were allowed up to three alcoholic beverages for the night. Life was simple and tranquil on the MV Explorer as my days consisted of learning from highly qualified faculty and staff, playing piano, working out, and dining to beautiful sunsets.

Arriving in a new country was always an interesting experience. Some students rushed to the exit in an attempt to be the first to debark while others, knowing they had field programs later in the day, would not wake up until hours after docking. Leaving a country could be just as stressful given that students wouldn't return to the ship until the final hours prior to departure. Some showed up with minutes to spare, panting, sweating, and holding the oddest collection of souvenirs. My own experiences traveling in new countries usually began with a few hours of chaos. A typical day started with balancing travel companions and finalizing plans. In addition to the logistical problems, we had to adjust to different forms of transportation, exchange currency and accustom ourselves to a new culture. However, once the preliminary plans had been addressed, traveling could finally begin.

Despite my passion for traveling, there are many aspects I dislike. Much of it can be tedious, especially under the summer heat with a fully loaded backpack, my shirt drenched in sweat, and nowhere to sleep for the night. However, what draws me to traveling is the problem solving, going off the beaten track, and the teamwork. Swimming through a seventy five foot long underwater cave in Croatia would not have been possible without the support I had from random cliff jumpers cheering me on. Speeding down Barcelona's hectic avenues on street bikes was made possible by the willingness of my friends. An island as beautiful as Santorini, with its baby blue houses and glistening coast lines could have been miserably lonely without another to share it with. Semester at Sea taught me more than just what was in our classroom. Rather, the time I spent abroad was a period of self‐realization and discovery where the lessons I learned could not be received anywhere else.

To a certain extent, the program did live up to its reputation. When 700 college students are dropped off in various countries for a week, one can expect a level of disorderly conduct. An evening in a foreign country often consisted of flocking to the nearest bar, dancing to an endless playlist of European techno music, or experiencing the variety of Mediterranean cuisine. Through my own experience, I realized that Semester at Sea provides opportunities, thus giving us a choice of what to take away. If a student is intent on treating the voyage like an international bar crawl, then so be it. Others saw what was truly being offered and took advantage of every opportunity to educate themselves on different cultures while having the time of their lives.

In essence, Semester at Sea changed me for the better. I found that it wasn't what I did that made a difference but who I did it with. The best days were the ones I spent hopelessly lost in a crowd of hungry short tempered Moroccans after a Ramadan fast or scrambling up ancient Turkish rock houses. I almost enjoyed getting Venetian pigeon feces in my hair thanks to the wonderful supportive friends that collapsed with laughter at my expense. Thinking back to my time abroad, I realize that everything I heard and read about the program was true. Would I go back? The thought of boarding the MV Explorer and not seeing all the familiar faces doesn't feel right, so returning isn't an option for me. On the other hand, I do recommend the program to anyone interested and hope their experience is as life changing as mine."

Photos for this article taken by Abigail Moul and Melissa Josephenson.

To learn more about the Semester at Sea program, visit https://www.semesteratsea.org/).