So, what was it really like to live on a ship in the middle of the ocean where days blended, time didn’t make sense, and there wasn’t enough Wi-Fi to even keep your snap streaks? Living on a ship with other college students was unlike any other experience I have ever had. I have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions and other little tidbits of information to describe what it was like being on a floating campus!
Where do you live/sleep?
Each voyager lives in a small cabin with at least one other roommate. Some rooms have windows or bunk beds; it all depends on your preferences! I opted to go random for my roommate to meet new people, and my roommate ended up being from Peru and went to UNC Chapel Hill. My cabin was very small…and had no window….so it got to be very claustrophobic at times. There’s not a lot of space for clothes or big suitcases so pack smart and get collapsible duffels! I shared a nightstand with my roommate, my bed was essentially a makeshift couch with an extra mattress on top, I got one pillow, and I had to bring extra blankets for warmth because they only give you a comforter. The bathroom is small, but beautiful with lots of tile, murals in the showers, and marble countertops. However, the shower is SUPER SMALL so when the ship rocks and you happen to be showering, you will be all over the place (cue me falling out of the shower as we crossed the Pacific Ocean). It’s a very cozy living situation and you certainly appreciate the Bentley dorms a little bit more after!
Where did you eat?
On the ship, there were two main “restaurants” included in your room and board: Lido and Berlin. I LOVED BERLIN! Every SASer is either part of the Lido gang or the Berlin gang and the debate about which one is better is never-ending. The food was the same in each restaurant, but the ambience was very different. Lido was on Deck 9, the top deck, which had beautiful views, but it was a lot smaller and if the ship was rocking a lot, you might lose your appetite. Berlin was on Deck 6, which is one of the main decks for activities in the Union or the Library, and it was huge! The tables were bigger, and it was a lot easier to move around. The food was standard (better than Seasons, but not the best) and breakfast was the best meal (the French toast was incredible). I loved sitting in Berlin even when it wasn’t mealtimes to do homework or meet my friends to play Bananagrams! There’s also the Lido grill where you can purchase food like smoothies, burgers, grilled cheese, fries, and pizza if you get sick of the other ship food!
What were classes like?
Classes take place all over the ship and your schedule for the day depends on whether it’s an A day or a B day. Certain classes were offered on each day. All kinds of classes were offered because there’s a wide variety of majors, and the professors come from all over the world. I took Positive Psychology, International Business Management, International Law, and Global Studies. Every student has to take Global Studies, and it is the only class that you take every day. It lasts for one hour in the Union, and it is just a big lecture hall with three different professors. The rest of my classes were all on B days, so I had A days basically free to go to the pool, go to the gym, and hang out! We had classes every single day at sea (yes, including weekends), but you technically don’t have any class while in port, unless you have a field class where you do something educational and fun in-country for class credit.
What did you do for fun?
So, given that there was basically no Wi-Fi, there wasn’t a ton to do. Before I left, I added about 40 new books on to my Kindle just in case and I made it through maybe half of them because there was quite literally nothing else to do. I played board games, card games, and Bananagrams with my friends on Deck 9 by the pool. In port, I downloaded Netflix episodes on to my phone to watch in my free time and hope that I downloaded enough to last me until the next port. Also, and this is SO important, find friends who remembered to bring a hard drive filled with movies. There’s also a spa onboard if you want to treat yourself to a massage, manicure, pedicure, and other fun treatments.
There are two key important days that are super fun on the ship: Sea Olympics and Neptune Day. You don’t have class on these days. Sea Olympics is basically a field day so where you live on the ship represents a particular “Sea.” I was in the Baltic Sea area, and we competed against other seas on this day in things like dodgeball, synchronized swimming, lip synching competition, a spirit competition, and more to determine who is the Sea Olympics champ (Shoutout to Bering Sea for claiming the title once again – but Baltic made a comeback and came in third place). Neptune Day is the day you cross the equator, so everyone becomes a shellback! You are woken up by the crew banging on drums, and then everyone goes to the pool. Every voyager gets “fish guts” poured on them and then you jump in the pool, swim to the other side, bow to King Neptune, and become a shellback! It’s a super fun day to celebrate crossing the equator!
What did you do for technology?
All voyagers get 50MB of Wi-Fi every 24 hours for free as well as an additional 7 minutes. If you want more Wi-Fi, you have to purchase it and it can be quite expensive. 50MB of Wi-Fi is enough to send some messages on WhatsApp for a bit, but you can burn through it really fast if you try to go on Instagram. The 7 minutes of Wi-Fi is just decent connection for 7 minutes straight and I tried to use this for phone calls on WhatsApp. It worked really well at sea and helped me stay connected to my friends and family. Every voyager also gets a SeaMail account that is connected to the Intranet on the ship. The intranet allows voyagers to send emails to the outside world, access course materials, and send Moodle messages to other voyagers. I spent a lot of time writing emails to everyone back home and my other friends abroad. Pro tip: forward your emails from your main email accounts back home to your SeaMail account. Game changer.
How did you stay fit on the ship?
I had a standard rule for myself while I was abroad: don’t force yourself to workout in port because you only get a few days in each country. I made sure to only workout when we were at sea, so I didn’t waste any time on land! The gym is very small on the ship and there’s six treadmills, three ellipticals, and a few weights in the indoor gym. There is also an outdoor section with a few bikes, some benches, and larger weights. In order to use any of the cardio equipment, you had to sign up early for a 30-minute time slot. 30 minutes was all you got so you had to make the most of it. They also had yoga mats so you could do ab workouts or yoga. I typically ran on the treadmill a lot, and I really had to master running with the huge waves (the key is shifting your weight a lot and paying attention). I definitely fell off the treadmill a few times. There’s also workout classes on the ship run by Resident Directors or voyagers! There were sunrise ab classes, morning and evening yoga, and an Orange Theory inspired fitness class run by a voyager whose dad was one of the founders of the fitness company! There’s tons of ways to stay fit on the ship and it is super beneficial for your mental health while at sea.
How did time zones work and how did you keep track of the days?
Since we only had classes on A days and B days, that’s all voyagers ever worried about. No one actually knew if it was a Monday or a Friday. When it came to time zones, we were fortunate enough to gain time with every single time change, except for one. The time changes were gradual, so we would only gain an hour at a time on certain nights. We crossed the International Dateline on our way to Japan, and we completely skipped over January 16th, so I’ll never get to experience January 16th, 2020!
These were some of the key features of ship life on Semester at Sea! It was fun to adjust to life at sea and establish a schedule for myself. Semester at Sea has tons of fun traditions that make the experience a memorable and rewarding one!