Semester At Sea – What Will I Learn?

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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.

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by Sarah Hutton



8 Responses to “Semester At Sea – What Will I Learn?”

jessiev

Says:

LOVE this! it’s so important to get out and learn. semester at sea is a WONDERFUL beginning to a life of travel – you’ve already sampled so many countries. YAY!

Mattie

Says:

This article is amazing. I did SAS summer 2009 and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I couldn’t agree with you more about how great the program is and how important the chance to experience many different cultures in just one study abroad trip really is.

My university is going through changes with our policies concerning SAS. Unfortuately, those higher in the corporate ladder here are making it harder and discouraging students from doing it. We, the alumni and intersted students are doing all we can to fight this. It’s such a shame that universities make it so hard for students to do what they want to with their college careers.

I’m glad you wrote this and hopefully it opened some eyes to how amazing the program is and what it really can do for you.

K Hill

Says:

Could not agree more! I am a Semester at Sea spring 1986 alumnus and have recently moved back to the US after spending 12 of the last 15 years living and working abroad. The ability to recognise and embrace such rich experiences and opportunities was kindled on [email protected] and has played a profound role in my life since— not to mention the many friendships which continue to this day. The sentiments expressed above by Ms Hutton are precisely correct. If you’re a parent or university student considering a semester abroad, [email protected] is the way to go.

Hanni Ress

Says:

What a beautiful testament to an amazing program! I also had many people urging me to spend my time abroad in one place for a semester but SAS grabbed hold of my heart and I’ve never looked back. After SAS, I returned to ‘port’ Tanzania twice, and then ‘port’ South Africa to study for two years… It’s been three years now and here I am writing you from SA as I found my lovely husband here. The portal that SAS opens to its students is to experience many places, engage with many people, explore many cultures… and now you have the tools to return to those places that really embraced you and to travel and travel not as a ‘tourist’ but as a human being, heart wide open 🙂 Best of luck and success in future travels! Hanni (Rosenfeld) Ress, Fall 2003

Julie

Says:

Love this.. I am a Fall 2003 alumni. I miss Semester at Sea every day.

paigemc28

Says:

this is truly amazing and inspiring. I have been accepted into the 2015 spring semester at sea program and am trying to convince my parents to let me go. Money and getting my degree are the main issues. Do you have any advice on how to persuade parents?

chris2x

Says:

Some of the advantages of travel abroad are that it helps you develop a wider view of the world, its problems and possible solutions. It gets you more in touch with its history than a textbook can. It helps you become more flexible which will be an advantage in your life going forward.

Dominique Norris

Says:

Hello, I currently go to Temple University and have been stonewalled by the study abroad office every time I try to talk about them letting me participate in Semester at Sea. How were you able to go on the program? Did you still receive funding/scholarships/grants/etc? I won’t be able to pay for SAS if I don’t have my federal, state, school and probably SAS aid. Did your credits transfer to Temple? I need to take an art gened and don’t have time to take it at main campus so I wanted to take it on SAS but if it won’t be accepted at Temple then that doesn’t help.

Any help would be super appreciated!

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