Classes on Semester at Sea

Classes at sea are very different than classes in a traditional classroom. First off, Semester at Sea is spot-on when they say, “The world is your classroom.” Each class is specially tailored for the countries that we visit. For instance, in addition to the Anthropology textbook, before we arrive in Japan we read Tsukiji about Tokyo’s fish market- the biggest in the world.  Different classes have different readings specifically tailored for each country. In addition, each class has a field lab where you spend a day in port with your class studying firsthand something related to your subject.

Another note: there are no weekends. Every day at sea is either an A day or B day. Unless the day is specifically designated as a study day there are classes every day. Classes are suspended while we are at port however, so we end up with constant six day breaks.


*America in the World – One of my favorite classes. The professor’s university has roughly 3000 students, so he is used to inviting them over for meals, taking them on trips, etc. He encourages us to eat dinner with him and his wife, an oddity for someone like me who comes from a school of 50,000. Right now on our journey across the Pacific we are learning about general American foreign policy through the ages, but as we make our way from country to country we will explore our relationship with each of them.

The field lab for this class is in Ho Chi Minh City, where we will spend the day touring the city and analyzing the slant that modern-day museums put on the war. Our professor lived in Vietnam for a number of years and has written 6 books on the war.

*Travel Writing – A very interesting, laid back class. I’ve done a lot of travel writing in the past, but have never exactly looked at it from the narrative, nonfiction essay point of view. I haven’t taken a nonfiction class since the 11th grade, so I’m really enjoying having a bit of guidance while also exploring my creativity.

This class’s field lab is in India, where we will cruise on a traditional Kettuvallam houseboat and be given various writing activities and exercises in each village we stop in.

*Cultural Anthropology – Our professor is extremely qualified and teaches at a very well-known university, but is fairly dry. The books we’re reading about culture are all fascinating, and even the textbook provides a lot of interesting examples of culture in foreign societies. If anyone hasn’t read an essay on the Nacirema society, I highly recommend googling it.

This class has a field lab in Kyoto, Japan where we will visit sites where silk thread is reeled from silkworm cocoons. We’ll learn about the steps between thread making and silk garments, while analyzing the technologies and skills required and how they have changed over time.

*Sino-American Relations – Part of my CY Tung scholarship is to be enrolled in this class. I love it. It’s co-taught by two great teachers, one American and one Chinese. The class has roughly 10 Chinese born students in it who provide their point of view as people who have been raised in Chinese society. We spent a lot of time talking about Sino-American relations since the 19th century. Since most American students are not very well-versed on Chinese history, during the first day we covered over 2000 years of it. The last 15 minutes of class is dedicated to Chinese and America culture, during which we’ve discussed Chinese characters, names, etc.

This class has a field lab on the Bund in Shanghai. We’ll have lunch with a consulate officer, meet with an American hotel owner, and analyze firsthand Sino-American relations.

On an unrelated note, I’d like to say goodbye to January 21st, 2014. You were a good day, but sadly we will be crossing the International Date Line tonight and you shall be lost forever.


Semester at Sea Disembarkation

Our journey began in San Diego, California where we took a three hour shuttle to Ensenada, Mexico. The [much quicker] coastal road collapsed last month, so we took the inland route. I haven’t had much opportunity to practice my Spanish since Colombia, so it was nice getting to translate the signs throughout the cities.

At last we arrived by the ship. Then came lines for handing over our passports, collecting our ID’s, and going through port security. I was very relieved when I finally arrived inside my room, dropped off my bags, and enjoyed a nice lunch of pasta with cod and sauteed vegetables. The birds seemed to enjoy the food almost as much as the students! At 17:00, our lifeboat drill ended and disembarkation began. Everyone came to the back of the ship to watch us depart.

As darkness approached, the ship sailed further away from land.

We’ve now been sailing on the open seas for roughly 48 hours and have another four days of classes until Hawaii.

Semester at Sea Open Ocean HDR

The above photo was taken using HDR mode on my camera, which combines three shots into one. I love how silky it makes the water.

Pink clouds at night, Sailor’s delight? That may not be the exact expression, but they were stunning regardless.

Pre-SAS: San Diego

Before my Semester at Sea began, I spent nearly two days exploring San Diego. It was pretty fun; despite having nearly nothing planned, I saw the beach, ate a ridiculous number of tacos, and spent some time testing out my new(ish) camera.

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I began my explorations at the beach. Here I learned just how different the Pacific Ocean is from the Gulf of Mexico. Not only were the waves 100x bigger, but there were also some surfers in the frigid water riding them.
san diego surfers
I stayed at the pier until sunset.

The next day, I set off early in the morning to explore the USS Midway before attending the TEDxSAS talk. The Midway was built slightly after World War II, and was the first American ship to have a separate landing and take-off design. Planes would land every 45 seconds during the day, and every minute after dark.

The TED talk was extremely inspirational, featuring exclusively Semester at Sea alumni. There was a professor who decided to teach his online class while traveling the world, and brothers who decided to quit their jobs and successfully sailed the world for 3.5 years (despite barely knowing how to sail).

The talk took place on-board the MV Explorer. While some on-board have said that it’s smaller than they expected, I say it’s much bigger than I imagined. I could see it docked in the pier even as I flew into the city.

I’m now on-board the ship and will continue posting fairly regularly. Stay tuned for more!

SAS: One Week Countdown

I leave for San Diego and Semester at Sea in a week.

Um… what? I still can’t believe this is really happening and am in awe of everything. Particularly the fact that I will soon be on a boat for four months taking classes as I make my way through three continents and twelve countries.  Thank you to everyone associated with the ISE and the Tung family for this awesome opportunity.

My to-do list is still pretty extensive… and is almost identical to what it was two weeks ago. Whoops? Items still on my list include making a packing list, creating a binder of ideas for attractions to see in each country, phonetically translating important phrases in each language, buying a plane ticket for the summer in China, and figure out if I need to buy one small overhead compartment suitcase or if I can make do with just a trail pack and a backpack.

Internet on Semester at Sea is very limited. Essentially I’ll have unlimited access to Wikipedia, Wikitravel, a couple of news websites, and my Semester at Sea e-mail account. The rest of the web is only accessible by using minutes, which come at fairly outrageous prices. Thankfully I’ll be able to keep up my blog via my e-mail, so that’s all set. The best way to keep in touch is by subscribing to my blog by using the link on the right toolbar of this page. This will give you an e-mail every time I upload a new blog post. Also, is the Semester at Sea e-mail address that I will be using on the boat.

Happy New Year!

Semester at Sea Spring 2014

Over the past four months, I’ve been working on Semester at Sea scholarship applications. Today I received word that I have been awarded one of two nationwide CY Tung scholarships, and will be taking part on the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage.

Thank you to my family, my proofreaders, and my reference letter writers. Also a very strong thank you to Mrs. Joyce, the Naples Council on World Affairs and everyone involved with YES Abroad/AFS. I’m sure I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of you.

Now for the fun stuff…

What is Semester at Sea?

Semester at Sea, run by the Institute for Shipboard Education, is a  nonprofit study abroad program administered by the the University of Virginia. The mission of ISE is to educate individuals with the global understanding necessary to address the challenges of our interdependent world.

I will be on this traveling cruise boat university for four months from January through May 2014.  The boat sails around the world, making stops in four continents. During the voyage, I will be taking 12-15 college credits in classrooms on the ship.

So you’ll be spending a semester taking classes on… a boat?

Yes sir’ee! The MV explorer is home to about 720 undergraduate students every semester. It was built in 2002 for the Royal Olympic cruise ship company.

MV explorer

What is the CY Tung scholarship?

The C.Y. Tung Program in Sino-U.S. Relations is in honor of C.Y Tung, who was instrumental in the founding of Semester at Sea. Tung, a Chinese shipping magnate, founded the world’s first global shipboard educational program in 1963. Tung was a visionary global leader in the critical importance of multi-country study abroad and cross-cultural understanding among young people.

The curriculum focuses on the socio-cultural, policy and economic interactions between Chinese and Americans to prepare future leaders to better understand each other’s cultures and work together for mutual benefit. The program intends to build on, and to fulfill, program founder C.Y. Tung’s original vision for shipboard education.

The program is led by a distinguished faculty in residence and includes rigorous courses on Chinese and American relations, history, culture, economics and diplomacy; visits from distinguished Chinese and American lecturers; excursions to educational and cultural sites in China; and scholarships for Chinese and American students.

Which countries will you be visiting?

semester at sea map

  • Embark: San Diego, CA, United States
  • Hilo, Hawaii, United States
  • Yokohama, Japan 
  • Kobe, Japan 
  • Shanghai, China 
  • Hong Kong, China 
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Singapore, Singapore
  • Rangoon, Burma
  • Cochin, India
  • Port Louis, Mauritius
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Tema (Accra), Ghana 
  • Takoradi, Ghana 
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Debark: Southampton (London), England

How long do you spend in each country?

Roughly 4-6 days.

That’s it for today, as I have a very long Chinese vocabulary quiz to study for in the morning. Under 3 more months until Spring 2014!