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First-year files: Semester at Sea

August 2nd, 2022

Have you ever considered studying abroad in college? What a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and lifestyle while continuing to take courses to complete your degree. The opportunity to study in a different country can be one of the most defining experiences of your lifetime.

Some students put study abroad programs at the top of their priority list when searching for the right school. If this is important to you, make sure to include the qualities of a study abroad program in your college search. Many colleges offer possibilities, although students often find programs offered by other institutions and transfer credits back to their home colleges.

When creating a college list, Samantha, a previous Shrop Ed advisee, set her sights on colleges with great study abroad programs. However, like so many things in life, plans changed and she found Semester at Sea. Her experience is very intriguing and I am grateful she was willing to share her deep reflections on the experience with us.

Samantha’s Semester at Sea….

When envisioning my perfect college experience, I had always dreamed of studying abroad. In researching colleges, I was drawn to several universities solely for the dazzling study abroad programs they offered. However, I quickly became sidetracked by all the shining bells and whistles – school spirit, research labs, clubs and organizations, Greek life, dormitories, and much more. By the time I enrolled at the University of Texas, I was completely unaware of the abroad experiences my home university had to offer.

When I began searching through UT’s study abroad opportunities, I was underwhelmed by the programs offered and confused by how few pertained to my major or offered the courses I needed for my degree plan. To make matters worse, programs were swiftly being canceled due to COVID-19. The pandemic threw a wrench in many college sophomores’ and juniors’ plans, as study abroad programs were dropped one after the other. I had just about assumed that my study abroad dreams were over.

Fortunately, one of my floor mates suggested that we both apply to a study abroad that happened to be unaffiliated with our university – Semester at Sea is a “multi-country study abroad program on a ship open to all students of all majors, emphasizing global comparative study.” What photos and words on a page cannot explain is the truly unforgettable gift Semester at Sea is for 400+ students a semester.

This study abroad program is accredited by Colorado State University, which made it easy to transfer credits back to UT, and offers courses from Oceanography to Economics. The wide array of courses makes it possible for just about any college undergraduate to find just what they are looking for. Professors bring a wealth of knowledge, energy, and creativity. Classmates come from countries that many have never even heard of. Overall, I had the opportunity to study, sleep, eat, swim, play, and relax on a cruise ship turned college campus, the MV World Odyssey. And best of all, I didn’t just have the opportunity to visit one country, but rather sixteen varying countries and cultures.

Growing up, I traveled internationally several times with my family. Semester at Sea offered an experience in which I could experience countries I had previously visited through a new perspective and explore unfamiliar countries, as well. By the end of my experience abroad, I had traveled to Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Malta, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, France, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, England, and Morocco. I made amazing friends, countless memories, and unforgettable experiences along the way.

With all the unforeseen challenges we experienced while navigating many different time zones, I prioritized quick calls home after every in-port experience. These calls also allowed me to update my family members on my travels in the process.

In giving advice to younger students considering study abroad, I would have to say, “lean into the discomfort.” Applying and eventually embarking on a study abroad experience will inevitably push you outside your comfort zone. Fortunately, this is the very point of studying abroad. In the midst of all the potential discomfort, you will learn to trust in your abilities, recognize your strengths, and view each day as an opportunity to absorb the wisdom around you, all while having a wonderful, gratifying experience. You will also learn to find comfort in newfound friendships, supportive professors, and communication with family members back home. In short, the study abroad experience is not only exciting but also challenging, and you will learn to love both.

Through my academic voyage with Semester At Sea, I cultivated three practices that I have implemented into my daily routine. Firstly, while studying abroad, I grew to prioritize a healthier work-life balance. Life on a ship offered a significantly different change of pace in which I was able to stay true to my academic responsibilities but also prioritize rest, healthy eating, and recreational time with friends. Back in Austin, I plan to follow a healthier routine in which I prioritize eight hours of nightly sleep and devote time to activities that genuinely make me happier, including playing tennis, cooking new meals, and spending time with friends. Through my experiences, I quickly began to view our world as a treasured gift, worthy of preservation, exploration, and study. People often say, “you learn something new about the world every day.” Through my academic voyage, I challenged myself to learn three new things a day – one new thing about myself, one new thing about a friend next to me, and one new thing about our big wide world. I have brought this practice home and am reminded of “The Big Three” via a sticky note on my bathroom mirror.

My many perspective changes are just small results of the impact Semester at Sea has had on me. I have never been more embraced by a community, eager to absorb my surroundings, or genuinely excited to learn. I can also confidently say that the experience cultivated empathy, challenged my perspective, and led me to absorb more information in my singular semester abroad than in all my previous five college semesters combined. I’m happiest to say my study abroad friends, memories, and lessons learned will surely last a lifetime.