UI students reflect on 'Semester at Sea' study abroad program

UIUC student Ashley Braver visits the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. This was one of the 11 countries she visited during her “Semester at Sea” study abroad trip.

By Jenny Horne

Imagine saying goodbye to solid land and saying hello to a ship that will become home for the next four months. The ship has no cellular service, no planned activities at each stop, limited wifi and few expectations.

This was Ashley Braver’s experience when she embarked on her “Semester at Sea” last spring.

“Semester at Sea” is a study abroad program where students attend classes and travel — only by boat. The ship, formally known as the MV World Odyssey, is designed to function as a college or university on waterRB.

Senior in ACES Ashley Braver said enrolling in the Semester at Sea program was the ultimate way to be spontaneous and adventurous while also getting to travel to 15 cities and 11 countries.

Braver reflects on the many places she got to visit and all of the experiences she had while on the ship. In total, she went to several parts of Hawaii, Japan and China, as well as Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia, Morocco and LondonRB.

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She said a captivating moment occurred when her ship crossed the equator. 

“There was Neptune day where we crossed the equator, and everyone shaved their head, kissed a fish and got dunked in a green pool,” Braver said.

Although she did not take part in the tradition, she said it was definitely memorable.

She also said she was not sure why a lot of people continued the old sailor tradition, but she was happy she got to experience the moment.

“It’s just one of the fun parts about traveling on a ship for your abroad experience,” she said.

While many University students are currently studying abroad in Europe, Braver chose a different route. Nearly a year ago, she decided to join the “Semester at Sea” program, which gave her the opportunity to visit all of the famous wonders of the world.

SAS National Organization said that the ship has a union-type room for community gatherings, classrooms, a large reception area, libraries, gyms, pools and cabins. According to the organization’s website, the new ship brings approximately 600 undergraduate students to the farthest reaches of the globe every semesterRB.

Braver said that one of the most memorable experiences she had was actually when she lost her passport.

“I lost my passport the final day we were in Myanmar in Burma, and it was a holiday, so no embassies were open,” Braver said. “So I had to stay behind and spent an extra week in Myanmar bribing the Indian embassy to give me a visa within five days, so I could fly to India in time to meet my friends and not have to go home and end my trip early. It was kind of a very cool learning experience.”

Jake Spungen, junior at the University of Ohio at Miami in Entrepreneurship, said he felt like the Semester at Sea program was an opportunity he had to take advantage of.

“I think something to look at is traveling when we’re older,” Spungen said. “Europe is easy to get around, but being able to be in China one week then a few weeks after in Vietnam or India is incredible for kids our age to experience.”

Braver said that being on a ship for so long allowed her to form very close-knit bonds with the other students in the program as well as the faculty and staff on the ship.

“I went to each country with people I made friends with, from being on the ship for seven days before reaching land at our first stop,” Braver said.

She also said that not having internet or cellular service made the trip more unprompted.

“We didn’t make any plans until reaching land because the Wi-Fi cost money and was so slow so not worth it,” Braver said. “It made (the trip) so much more fun though not knowing anything about any of the countries we were going to by just showing up.”

Although Jennifer Rees, senior in AHS, did not travel on the Semester at Sea program, she visited many of the same locations.

She said she found herself when she travelled over 1,000 miles away.  

“I truly felt that going somewhere other than Europe, especially only having one other person from U of I in my program, taught me a lot about myself and gave me the opportunity to be scared but to take chances,” Rees said.

Even though students spend a lot of time on the ship during Semester at Sea, Braver said this was something she never grew tired of.

“(I) never got sick of sitting by the pool deck in the middle of the ocean because I never knew what I might see … We saw dolphins a lot,” Braver said. “It was the most amazing sunrises and sunsets I’ll probably ever see again.” 

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