Her Study Abroad: Why SEA Semester Might be Right for You

American University prides itself on the number of undergraduates it sends abroad. For many of us, the idea that we will be able to study abroad and graduate on-time is enticing, and it's a big reason why we went with a university like AU when making the final college decision. But it isn’t always as easy as our admissions counselors claimed it would be, especially when you choose a program as difficult as pre-med. With all of those lab courses bogging you down, it takes some serious planning and artful manipulation of your schedule to squeeze in a semester abroad. It helps if you can cover some of those basic lab courses with AP or IB credit. Still, sometimes this isn’t enough, and you find yourself at a loss or limited to just one or two universities you may or may not be interested in. Luckily for Devin Kuhn, a sophomore at American University on the pre-med track with a neuroscience major on the brain (pun intended), SEA Semester was there to provide her with that life-changing experience none of us want to miss out on.

When she first started planning out her study abroad experience, Kuhn’s pre-med advisor suggested going during her junior year, which is pretty typical for AU students. However, she had already committed to a year-long position in her sorority. Kuhn realized she would have to look into summer study abroad programs if she still wanted the experience, and the sea was calling her name.

SEA Semester offers a variety of voyages ranging in length, credit commitment, and time of year. After examining her options, Kuhn decided on a nine-week, 12-credit summer voyage called “Protecting the Phoenix Islands.”

Before setting sail, SEA Semester participants spend time on land taking intensive college courses and rigorous sailing courses, making it possible for those with no sailing experience to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. After being as thoroughly prepared as possible for life on the boat- like learning how to handle potential emergencies and collect data for their final papers- it was time to set sail.

While Kuhn is adamant that the experience was life-changing and well worth her time, she admits that the first week on the boat was difficult for someone unaccustomed to life at sea. Kuhn describes the first part of her voyage, saying that she “didn’t see land for a week and a half” and had to do all of her watch’s duties as the only one not suffering from seasickness. She “physically and mentally wasn’t ready,” especially not for the tiny bunk she had to share with the suitcase she was living out of. For other girls considering a semester at sea, Kuhn has a few recommendations for making the experience bearable.

For starters, she highly recommends cutting your hair short if you don’t wear it short already. When you shower, it is on deck in a swimsuit with waves hitting you every so often, and there is only a little fresh water available for bathing. All of that salt water is no good for manageable hair, so it is better to just cut the problem at the roots. Kuhn says it made all the difference. Long hair can also be a safety hazard if it gets caught in the lines, so if you absolutely cannot part with your locks, be prepared to keep them braided at all times.

In addition to haircare, Kuhn offers some skincare tips. Sunscreen and a good hydration cream are absolute necessities between the sun, the sea, and the wind. Make sure to pack enough to last!

Another thing Kuhn mentions is how boring it can be off-watch without your cell phone and internet, so be prepared for a social media black-out while onboard. “You need to keep yourself busy during [the voyage] or you literally might go crazy,” Kuhn states, remarking upon how difficult it was not to talk to her family for so long. She recommends books and puzzle books, such as a crossword or Sudoku book. Students onboard are also tasked with maintaining a sort of diary in blog-form, which family members definitely appreciate. You can view Kuhn’s post here or the general blog here.

Finally, Kuhn mentions that the food left something to be desired. They had oatmeal almost every day, and after about 3 ½ weeks at sea the fresh food supply ran out. Some other common options included granola, pasta, and pretzels.

After talking to Kuhn, it is clear that the program isn’t for everyone. While all of the staff was medically trained and students prepared for emergencies, some emergencies still came up that no one expected. Kuhn recommends it for girls who are more outdoorsy and adventure-loving, although she herself has no regrets: “It’s the experience of a lifetime. You see things that you will never see ever again in your life... it was amazing. We [even] swam with the sharks!”

SEA Semester is definitely a great option for those who may not have room in their schedule to go abroad otherwise, or for those with a strong interest in research in marine biology or environmental science. For a strong application, Kuhn recommends demonstrating your ability to work well with a group and your interest in the research being conducted.

While she probably wouldn't go on another voyage, Kuhn describes her experience as “unforgettable,” and the people she met will be her friends for the rest of her life.

Applications for SEA Semester are rolling, so if you are an AU student and want to hop on board for Summer 2018 contact Professor Christopher Tudge at [email protected] or Mike Galaviz at [email protected] for more information. Or you can always check out the official website.


(Photo Credit: Cover belongs to Kuhn, 1, 2, 3)