Semester at Sea: A Life-Changing College Experience
I have been fortunate enough to have never been discouraged from doing anything I want to do. Parents, teachers, and friends have always supported me. Maybe that is part of why I was so shocked when the study abroad office at Temple University tried to convince me not to do Semester at Sea. “You don’t get to learn the culture of a place,” they said. “You are always a tourist.”
They tried to convince me to go to Europe. I got where they were coming from; living in one place for an entire semester allows a person to learn the intricacies of a single city. But, who is to say that is “better” than what I wanted to do? Living and taking classes on a ship while visiting different countries along the way sounded, to me, like the best way to learn about world cultures, not just European cultures. I participated in Semester at Sea in the spring semester of 2009 against the wishes of my school, and it is the best decision I ever made.
I could go on for days about everything I experienced and I would just be getting started. But, some highlights of my semester were:
I experienced the nightlife in Barcelona, Spain. I bargained at the souks in Morocco.
I saw an African sunset in Namibia.
I visited the townships in South Africa.
I visited a school in Mauritius. I saw the Taj Mahal…
…and Varanasi, the oldest holy city, in India.
I canoed through caves in Thailand. I saw the presidential palace in Vietnam and the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I stood on the Great Wall of China.
I visited Japan during cherry blossom season.
I hiked in Hawaii and biked in Guatemala.
I saw and did many wonderful things throughout my semester. But, I also saw some terrible things. I saw African children who had been orphaned due to AIDS. I visited the townships in South Africa. I witnessed the failure of Mauritius to educate all of its students. I went to Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India. I saw the prostitution issues in Thailand. It wasn’t all glamour and it certainly wasn’t all “tourism” and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Temple University couldn’t have been more wrong.
Temple told me I wouldn’t experience any culture, but I would like to argue I experienced more cultures than anyone who stays in one country. I experienced the laid-back nature of Spain, which was quite the contrast to our rushed society. I witnessed similar attitudes in Africa, where someone told us, “In America, you have watches. In Africa, we have time.” I was forbidden from asking a question in an Indian restaurant because I am a woman. I discussed some of China’s policies, such as the one child policy, with Chinese college students while I toured one of their top universities. I saw how helpful the Japanese culture is, and the extent to which they try to make things as easy as possible for their visitors. Every week I learned about a new culture, many of which I would never have visited if I had never done Semester at Sea.
Semester at Sea made me part of a community of peers who all have similar interests and feelings, and I am confident I will keep in touch with many of them for the rest of my life. The things we learned about ourselves and the about the world have stuck with us long after we returned from Semester at Sea. Passions and interests which I never knew existed were ignited inside of me while I studied abroad, and they have yet to quiet themselves.
Kaeleigh, one of my best friends from the semester, says, “Semester at Sea opened my eyes to the reality and opportunity of pursuing a career and life in the non-profit sector. I experienced firsthand the unyielding, unifying determination of the human spirit; it completely changed my life.”
Similarly, my roommate and another of my closest friends from the semester, Megan, says, “As a student who desires to work in the professional health care field, Semester at Sea exposed me to the urgent health crises around the world and made them tangible to me. I was able to witness firsthand the vital need for AIDS education in South Africa, and that sparked a desire for me to return in the near future when I complete my medical training.”
Studying abroad anywhere is an experience that can greatly enhance a student’s time in college. But for anyone who is interested in seeing unusual places, or who, like me, has a little bit of a short attention span, Semester at Sea is undoubtedly one of the best programs out there. I can not even begin to explain the ways it has affected my life.
S Hutton is the Student Travels Editor for Wandering Educators