Hi everyone! Welcome to the first article of my mini-series about studying abroad on a SHIP through Semester at Sea. That’s right. I sailed around the world on a ship through a pandemic and it was CRAZY.
I know travel isn’t feasible right now, but I wanted to take some time to reflect on my crazy experience, provide tips for how to deal with being far from home, and talk a little bit about ship life (yes, it was just like the Suite Life on Deck!!). One day, students will start studying abroad and traveling the world again, so I figure these tips about traveling, packing, navigating language barriers, dealing with mental health abroad, and more can come in handy for when the world is open again.
So, a little bit about my Semester at Sea experience: I sailed on the Spring 2020 Voyage, also known as Voyage 128! Yes, we were the 128th voyage for Semester at Sea, which is crazy! Our original itinerary consisted of Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and the Netherlands. 11 countries. 106 days. We embarked from Ensenada, Mexico on January 6th. Our voyage was supposed to end on April 20th in Amsterdam, Netherlands, but unfortunately it had to end on March 15th. The new, pandemic-friendly itinerary consisted of Hawaii, Japan, Vietnam, Mauritius, and South Africa. There were a ton of countries added and taken away depending on which foreign governments would let us dock there, but I will explain that in another article because it was a lot to handle. Our amazing floating campus for the Semester was the MV World Odyssey, a beautiful German ship typically used for small European cruises, but we were using it to circumnavigate basically the entire globe.
Something I loved most about the ship is that everyone is together 24/7 in a very confined space. It’s not uncommon to see your professors at breakfast with their families, talk to lifelong learners on the pool deck, and interact with your classmates. All. The. Time. What I loved most about being on this floating campus in the middle of the ocean with land hundreds to thousands of miles away is that it made it so much easier to connect with people and build such strong bonds so quickly. This helped me make some of the best friends in the world because there was no social media to distract us. Instead, I spent hours talking to my friends about anything and everything, stargazing with them on the pool deck, planning travel on the two working computers with good Wi-Fi in the library, and crying with them as COVID-19 began changing everything about our experience. Three weeks with my friends on the ship felt like three months on land. The friends I made were what made it so hard to say goodbye in the end; the countries we couldn’t go to would always be there, but the time on the ship with these people was a once in a lifetime experience.
Semester at Sea was the best experience of my life and the only thing I would have changed about my experience is having more time on the ship with some of the best people (I honestly wish we just got to quarantine in the middle of the ocean). I can’t wait to write more about my experience and hopefully inspire readers to want to study abroad with Semester at Sea in the future!