Travel blogger, technology advocate, media scholar - add ‘sailor’ to that list. Alex Budak tells us about his floating college days with Semester at Sea.
What is Semester at Sea?
Semester at Sea (SAS) is a study abroad program for college students. What's unique about it is that instead of studying at a single university for a semester, learning takes place on a ship sailing around the world, visiting numerous countries.
While the ship is sailing from country to country, students have classes and lectures; upon arrival in new cities, the ship stays docked for a few days, allowing students to explore the country. During my semester we visited eight countries: Iceland, Norway, Russia, Poland, Belgium, France, Ireland and Spain.
What does it cost? How often does it run? What do you need to take with you?
The costs for SAS are similar to the costs of a semester's tuition and board at a private university in the United States. Luckily, like other study abroad programs, scholarships are available, and I was fortunate to receive one from my university to help a bit with the expenses. The programs generally match those of the academic calendar, with semester-long voyages taking place from August to December and January to May, as well as a summer program from June through early August. You'll want to start planning a few months in advance, both for being accepted to the program as well as for logistical reasons, such as getting visas and paperwork taken care of. You need to bring clothes, toiletries and school supplies with you; while you can buy things while on the ground in various countries, you do spend multiple days in a row at sea.
What made you decide to do SAS?
It was part indecisiveness, and part sense of adventure. Indecisiveness because it was so hard to decide on a single location in which to study abroad when there was so much in the world I yearned to see. On the other hand, it was my nose for adventure and excitement that hinted that it was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that I shouldn't let it pass me by.
Describe an average day, both on and off the ship.
On the ship, I would wake up early for breakfast and then attend lecture for our Global Studies class - the one course required of all students, which was fantastic in that it provided an academic grounding for understanding the countries and region we were visiting. The rest of the day, like life at any university, is a mix of classes, studying, working out (there's a small gym on the ship), and the occasional lecture or event in the evening. Off the ship, days varied as much as the countries we visited. In some countries we would have field trips as a part of our courses - for example, when visiting Belgium, my ‘Politics of the EU’ course took a field trip to Brussels to visit EU headquarters. In other countries without required trips, we would be free to create our own travel adventures, which in my case ranged from white-water rafting in Norway to visiting the beaches of Normandy to taking an overnight train in Russia.
Who can apply?
Any undergraduate student may apply. For those past the college years, there are opportunities for professors and other professionals (there are librarians and an official photographer, for example). Also, there is a ‘Lifelong Learning’ program for non-students who have a few months free to join the voyages.
What did you get out of it? Anything that you didn't expect to?
Having only briefly traveled outside of the US beforehand, SAS instilled in me a passion for exploring and seeing the world. I can't emphasize enough what an awesome experience it is to combine classroom studies with cultural and international exploration. I definitely came back from it feeling much more of a citizen of the world, especially because it was my first experience with travel writing and blogging.
Whom would you recommend it to?
I would recommend it to anyone who is curious about the world - especially those who, like me, have trouble deciding on a single place to visit and who want to see it all. It's a different kind of education, but one that diversified and rounded out my traditional university education.
Any tips for university students?
All I can say to someone thinking of studying abroad is: just do it! Yes, it's expensive; yes, it takes you out of your comfort zone and away from friends for a semester, but just go abroad, and you can figure out all of those details later.
Alex Budak tweets at @TheBudak and blogs at unpoppedcollar.com. Inline photos this page courtesy of Alex Budak.