A Semester at Sea Story…
It’s a VOYAGE…not a cruiseEvery Semester At Sea alum
Growing up, I’d never really considered doing much international travel. It’s not that I didn’t think it’d be possible, I just literally never really thought much about it. Neither of my parents had college degrees, and I didn’t have any older siblings, cousins, or friends that had gone to college either–I was the first–so when I got to UCSB, the concept of a study abroad office or program was just as foreign to me as a place like Spain was. Then one day as a 20-year old in college, something big happened.
Ok, so it wasn’t actually that big. I just went to an info session about a study abroad program called Semester At Sea (SAS) because it just happened to be facilitated in the building I was living in. But what happened AFTER that was big: I decided to apply. Fast-forward 3 months from that night to June 17th, 2012, and I found myself in the Bahamas preparing to embark on SAS’s ship, the MV Explorer, and set sail to Spain.
Reaching that first port stirred something up in me that was probably already there, but had been dormant. Everything following it baked that something into a full-blown passion for traveling and experiencing people, food, cultures, and environments in new ways. We saw 7 countries with vibrant colors, rich cultures, and soul-bonded histories. From the mountains, seas, and deserts, to the cities, bazaars, and restaurants, my mind raced to process everything I was experiencing. It was challenging, but it was enlightening; it was confusing, but it was inspiring. I loved every minute of it.
Ironically, as magical as it was to be in port, that’s actually not where the magic of SAS happens. Or maybe it’s not so ironic. If you look at the website, you’ll see a slogan: The World is Your Classroom. One thing we know about classrooms is most learning occurs outside of them. That’s where the ship comes in. The ship becomes your home, your gym, your dinner table, at which you swap stories from being in-country with your professors and staff members who are just as eager to share theirs with you. You share your vulnerable moments with your friends who you sort of start to feel like have been in your life for years. You develop relationships with crew members who become integral parts of your experience. The whole thing is nerve-wracking and exciting and fast and sloooow, but you know the shipboard community is there for you when you need it, and you will need it. And when you leave it after your last port, it feels…weird. Odd. Not quite right. Look a little deeper on the website, and you’ll find these values: Personal Well Being, Interconnectedness, Excellence, Respect, Inclusion, Integrity, and Organizational Strength. All of these things happen on the ship. Maybe not all at once, but they happen, and it has a huge impact. Leaving that is difficult.
I got off the ship to head back to Southern California on August 18th, 2012, and on that day I promised myself I’d be back for a round 2. I’m fortunate now to be able to say that I did in fact return for a round 2 on the Fall 2019 voyage (shout out Yellow Sea) as a staff member. And guess what–it happened again. Even though it was a different ship (the MV World Odyssey), it became my home, my gym, and my dinner table at which I swapped stories from being in-country with professors and staff members who were just as eager to share theirs with me.
It looks like the Fall 2020 voyage unfortunately wasn’t in the cards. To those of you who were set to sail on it, I encourage you to try again in the future, if at all possible. I think you’ll thank yourself. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day the World Odyssey retakes its rightful place at sea. Until then, I’ll continue to be like, “Hey by the way, do you know someone thinking about studying abroad? Because I got the perfect program in mind…”
~Brandon the Gallant
P.S. it’s a ship, not a boat. Thanks. *puts mic down*