You’ve been bitten by the travel bug and no matter what you do, you can’t stop scratching it! In fact, the harder you scratch, the more it itches. Chances are, you’ve done the backpacking thing, you’ve been on vacation with your family, or you’ve been the one sitting on a 14-hour flight to some exotic destination. But what if there was a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity that took you to 12 countries in under four months...and it was all on a cruise ship? Welcome aboard Semester At Sea, your gateway to learning about the world by actually experiencing it.
Started in 1963 as a floating campus, Semester At Sea (SAS) provides study abroad opportunities and other programs for both college students and lifelong learners alike. From hiking the Great Wall, to building houses in Ghana, to living on a ship, Semester At Sea is unlike any travel experience you will ever have in your life. In fact, 98 percent of Semester at Sea alums report it’s their most significant semester of college. Now that I have your attention, see how a life at sea can become a reality.
There are many voyage options for those looking to sail on Semester At Sea. Each year, there is a spring, summer, fall, and two enrichment voyages. The spring and fall semester voyages are just under four months and travel to 10-14 countries, depending on the itinerary. The spring voyages are usually the “Around the world” voyages, while fall is an “Atlantic exploration.” Summer voyages travel through the Mediterranean, visiting Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East and are just under three months long. The Enrichment voyages are month-long voyages in December/January and April/May and usually visit 1-3 countries.
You should choose your voyage depending on what kind of experience you wish to have. While all of them are guaranteed to be life-changers, it is up to you to decide the length of your voyage, how many class credits you want to earn, and where you want to visit. The best part is, there is no wrong decision. You are traveling around the world, meeting incredible friends and getting to experience something most people never will!
Semester At Sea’s academic sponsor is The University of Virginia. All courses appear as U.Va courses, are fully-accredited, and meet the standards for transfer back to your home university. SAS offers up to 75 upper and lower division courses in multiple fields of study. So no, you won’t be taking marine biology and astronomy unless you want to. You get to pick your classes depending on your academic interests.
Courses range from communications to nutrition to business to music studies and almost everything else in between. But don’t expect these classes to be structured the same as the other classes you’ve taken in school. Your coursework will be tied into your itinerary, which means you are learning about the countries you are visiting as they relate to the type of class you are taking. So one day you are learning about the business strategies of companies in Shanghai, China, and the next day you are in a high-rise in Shanghai experiencing how Chinese business is conducted. Each course you take prepares short field excursions so you get to see everything you are learning first-hand. Sure beats reading a textbook and then writing a paper!
With Semester At Sea, you are getting a global, comparative education. You are living and breathing a cross-cultural comparison with each country and city you visit. Each day you are on the ship, you are taking classes. But as soon as you pull into port, the world is your oyster and you are free to explore. There really is no better learning environment.
The faculty and staff aboard SAS are really second-to-none. Each Academic Dean is responsible for bringing together professors who are the best of the best in their respective fields. The application and interview process for these professors is tedious and difficult, and only the top faculty are chosen. Some professors apply year after year for a teaching opportunity on Semester At Sea, with backgrounds of teaching at schools such as MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia. Some professors are leaders of social and political movements, Academy Award winners and nominees and Pulitzer-Prize winners, bringing their expertise in to the classroom.
Semester At Sea will even bring aboard interport lecturers and guest speakers who are experts on certain academic topics. Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Laureate), Fidel Castro (former Cuban president), Nelson Mandela (first president of South Africa), and Mikhail Gorbachev (USSR president) are some of the world-renowned leaders that have spoken to SAS students.
As mentioned before, when the ship docks in a port, you are free to explore the country. Time on land averages from 4-7 days, which yields many experiences for each student. You can plan a trip on your own with a group of friends or through Semester At Sea. There is no doubt you will want to hike the Great Wall, take a trip down the Amazon River, or visit the Pyramids. Or maybe you will want to take it easy and walk through the marketplace in Vietnam or sit on the beach in Mauritius. Whatever you decide to do in a country will be a memory that lasts a lifetime, but there are some experiences that lead to social change.
Semester At Sea provides service learning and community outreach opportunities in almost every port. These trips are often the trips students will say made the most impact on their voyage, because they made a difference in the lives of the locals and vice versa. From building a house in Ghana to visiting orphanages in China and Vietnam to helping communities in South Africa, there are endless ways to give back to the world and make a difference. Moreover, you will create friendships with the local people that will last even once your voyage is over.
Having an experience like Semester At Sea on your resume is a great tool for interviews. It showcases a stellar academic repertoire, your interest in global issues and sustainability, and your willingness expand your knowledge and outreach. SAS has a vast network of alumni working in industries and companies around the world that you can leverage to find your fit in the workplace. You never know if your potential employer or interviewer is a SAS alumni or friend of the program, and that may be what lands you your dream job. It is a program that has been outputting successful individuals since 1963. Some notable alumni include fashion designer Tory Burch, founder of Quiksilver Bob McKnight, co-founder of DHL International Po Chung, actress Cynthia Nixon, and co-founder of Kiva Jessica Jackley. Trust me, you’re in good company.
You may look at the initial price tag and think there is no possible way this could work. And you may also be wondering if it’s even worth it. Yes, it’s worth it! But you’ll never actually realize how worth it until you are standing on the ship, looking over the vast ocean as you pull into a port of a country you’d never dreamed you’d visit. It is unlike any other abroad experience you will have. And think of it this way, you can always work, study, or live in another country, but you will probably never be able to sail around the world on a floating campus.
There are many options to help you afford a Semester At Sea voyage. They offer $4 million in financial aid annually, which includes scholarships and work study options. In addition, you can apply for federal and private loans to help offset the cost. There is even an option for a monthly payment plan through Sallie Mae, which is one of the most popular financing alternatives. Plus, since you will not be paying tuition at your home university, you can put those funds toward your voyage, which includes all classes, housing, all meals on board, a full-time staff and faculty, health insurance, and some field excursions. Semester At Sea is very good about working with students with financial concerns, so don’t count it out yet.
While a majority of participants are college students, there are also programs for non-college students. The Lifelong Learning program is open to participants over the age of 40 who are looking to travel the world and learn from the students and faculty. There are Lifelong Learners on every voyage who can audit or sit in on classes, attend field excursions, serve as mentors, or just expand their sense of adventure. Lifelong Learners benefit from the academic community and use the experience to grow their own global sense while learning about other cultures.
The Enrichment Voyages are voyages open to participants of all ages, including high school students. Those sailing on this month-long voyage will benefit from interactive classes taught by college professors, workshops, explorer seminars, and field excursions. An Enrichment Voyage is a great way to get the SAS experience for kids, high school and college students, and adults, without having to commit to a full summer or semester abroad.
Living and learning on a floating campus creates one of the most remarkable communities you will experience. The MV Explorer is home to more than 2,000 participants each year on Semester At Sea. It is a 590-foot, 7-deck cruise ship and is one of the fastest passenger ships in the world. With all the amenities of a cruise ship, including spa facilities, a gym, two dining rooms, an outdoor sport court, WIFI, and a pool, there is no need to worry about a case of cabin fever. The MV Explorer offers intramural sports, games, movie nights, and even a shipboard “family” to keep you busy and having fun. Ship life is extraordinary! You get on at the beginning of your voyage and by the end, you’re begging the captain to let you stay longer. Here’s a little visual of what I mean.
There is no doubt that when you get 600 plus college students on a trip around the world, there is bound to be some partying. The ship and its staff are very strict on the consumption of alcohol on board while at sea, however there is not much restriction on land. That being said, there are those students each voyage that head to the nearest bar or club the second they dock in a country. While I recommend having fun and going out for a night on the town, by no means should you use Semester At Sea as an excuse to drink your way around the world. When you get back on the MV Explorer at the end of your stay in a country, you want to recount more than just how much you drank...if you can even remember. Aside from not remembering your trip, you run the risk of getting mugged or injured when you are intoxicated with drugs or alcohol in a foreign country. If you decide to abuse your privileges on board and are caught overly intoxicated, you face having to stay on board in the next port or even sent home. It’s just not worth it. Take three months off the hardcore partying, you won’t regret it!
As with most things in life, no risk equals no reward. This couldn’t be more true in the case of traveling. Semester At Sea will bring you a slew of opportunities just waiting to be seized, and it is up to you to decide how adventurous you want to be. Whether you’re just trying sushi for the first time or you want to jump straight into the live squid, trying something new gives you a thrilling feeling of accomplishment. You may be thinking you’re the ultimate adrenaline junkie and you’ll try anything. Great! But comfort zones aren’t just limited to physical dares of bungee jumping, cage diving with sharks, or ingesting cow tongue. Sometimes the real tests of your comfort come in the interactions with someone who leads a lifestyle, religion, or belief system different from your own. Often times your growth begins by befriending an orphan in South Africa, attending a Muslim pilgrimage, or having dinner with an Indian family. Or maybe it starts by reaching out to a shipmate from a rival school or a professor you wish to learn from over coffee on the 7th deck by the pool. The more you extend yourself, the more you will get out of your voyage. What do you have to lose?
Whether you’re a college student, a lifelong learner, or just want to take a trip that is as fun as it is life-changing, Semester At Sea is an adventure you don’t want to miss. Where else can you live aboard a ship with 600 of your peers, take your own postcard snapshot in front of the Taj Mahal, and learn from the world’s greatest leaders? Well, what are you waiting for? The world is your campus!
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Photo Credits: Semester at Sea © Shauna Fleming; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com