Semester at Sea is arguably the most comprehensive study abroad program available to students today. The nonstop travel from country to country and constant exposure to new cultures is both daunting and exhilarating. Whether you’re already a seasoned traveler or have never ventured outside of the United States, this program is guaranteed to test your limits and leave you more competent and confident than you were before. That being said, the program certainly comes with its ups and downs, and I’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of Semester at Sea:
1. You get a little taste of everything. Unlike other study abroad programs which are usually stationed in one city, Semester at Sea gives you the chance to see over a dozen countries (15 countries, in the case of my Fall 2014 voyage). Upon my first look at the itinerary, I didn’t think four days in Barcelona or five in Havana, Cuba would be nearly enough. But as the voyage went on, I realized that these short visits were just right. I was able to get a feel for the local culture, experience the city and determine if it was a place I’d like to come back to someday.
2. Your classmates come from all over the world. On my first day of classes, I met students from California, Texas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Egypt, Mexico and Albania. And as the voyage went on, that list grew tenfold. There’s something special about meeting students from so many unique backgrounds. Hearing their stories and learning about different cultures opened my eyes to just how beautifully big and diverse the world really is. Not to mention you make friendships that last a lifetime, which come with the added perk of having a friend (and probably a place to stay!) in all corners of the globe.
3. You learn a lot about yourself. Traveling through these countries, I not only learned about my fellow travelers, but about myself. As a 20 year old going into this semester, I thought I knew myself pretty well. However, after the 108 day voyage I recognized that there was so much more to me as a traveler and as a person. For one, I found that I have a great sense of direction. Having no access to GPS made me realize I didn’t really need it as much as I thought I did afterall. I also realized that my French was far better than I gave myself credit for. I took French in high school and it had been a while since I’d brushed up on it. Before the trip, I never thought I could speak the language sufficiently enough to get my point across. However, once I was thrown into situations that required me to step up to the plate, I was perfectly able to understand and speak the language, oftentimes saving my friends and I a lot of time and energy trying to find an English speaker among a sea of locals.
4. You live the dream life. Seriously. You get to watch the sun rise and set over the ocean every day. Your study breaks consist of enjoying soft serve and laying by the pool. Your meals are all prepared for you. Every other day, your cabin is cleaned. You can have your laundry done for you. You’ll make lifelong friends. And sometimes you’ll even catch dolphins dancing around in the water outside your window. What more could you ask for?
5. You learn to embrace being uncomfortable. There are a lot of situations you’re going to be thrown in on Semester at Sea, and quite frankly there’s no way to be fully prepared for any of them. Between meeting 650 new classmates, attempting to navigate unfamiliar cities, and constantly trying to converse with locals in their native tongue, feeling at ease is a rarity. But that’s the beauty of it. I believe you grow most when you escape your comfort zone. Embracing the unknown instead of rejecting it will lead to a world of opportunity.
1. You don’t get the chance to fully immerse yourself in a culture. While the quick switch from country to country is perfect for getting a taste of each individual culture, doing so prevents you from completely immersing yourself in a single culture, like students who study in one city are able to do. At first, this seemed like a big drawback to me but then I realized, who else can say they visited 16 countries and four continents in one semester? After all, you can always take time to go back to one of the countries and immerse yourself in the culture at that point in time.
2. Your class schedule is all over the place. As is the nature of this program, you’ll spend a few days at sea, then a few more on land, then one day at sea, then six on land, and so on. There is no way around this sporadic schedule due to transit distance between ports. Therefore, instead of taking a Tuesday/Thursday class or one of similar structure, you will take a mix of A and B classes. While you’re at sea, you’ll alternate between A and B class days, taking all your A classes one day and your B classes the next. Where this becomes difficult is when this happens: you’ll be on the ship one day for B classes, then you’ll spend four days in a country, have one day at sea (when you’ll take your A classes), and then spend another three days in a new country. By the time you return to the ship to take your B-day classes, it’s been over a week. This makes it tough to keep up with homework and maintain a consistent schedule. But of course with enough discipline, it can be done.
3. 108 days isn’t enough. I fell in love with everything about this voyage – the countries visited, my classmates, the faculty and staff, our beloved ship and even the struggle of having no wi-fi or cell service for most of the trip. Every day, I felt like I got closer to everyone on that ship and having to leave them after 108 days was not easy. I could have easily stayed on the ship for another lap around the world with some of the most compassionate people I’ve met, but all good things must come to an end. I guess I’d consider myself lucky to have been a part of something special enough to make saying goodbye so hard.
Overall, Semester at Sea was one of the best and most impactful experiences I’ve ever been a part of. I learned things that I never could have learned from a textbook and met incredible people whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise. The 108 days we spent on the ship and in different countries are irreplaceable and I’ll cherish them forever. To anyone considering taking the plunge and joining the next SAS excursion: please do it. It will be one of the best decisions you’ll make not only in college, but in your life.