The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


So Long, SMU. Hello, World.

One student’s look at a not so average semester

Imagine textbooks that come to life, a passport in exchange for a student ID, a ship for residents’ halls and the world as a campus.

The Semester at Sea program, sponsored by the University of Virginia, offers the ultimate study abroad opportunity. I was one of the 670 students of the fall 2008 Voyage. In 108 days, we visited 11 countries, sailed 29,678 miles and earned a semester’s worth of college credit.

Formerly dubbed as the “booze cruise”, the Semester at Sea program no longer subscribes to an MTV Real World mentality.

Classes range from international finance to Indian signing. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. Some classes are more intimate with only eight students, while some are auditorium-sized lectures. Whatever your “style” is, Semester at Sea has something for you.

Living in isolation on a ship completely redefines any preconceived definition of community. Close quarters prevent loneliness and professors and students actually interact outside of class. They live together, eat together, travel together and even tan together. Traveling the world with a ship full of instant friends and strangers makes for a unique community.

It is a community driven by the same motives – to see the world, to learn and to change for the better. It is different from a sorority sisterhood or any 12 man team. It is a vulnerable community that witnesses raw pain, poverty and prejudices. It is a community where there is nothing familiar to cling to except each other. It is a humble community that undergoes an indescribable transformation, forfeiting ignorance and becoming citizens of the world. It is a community where students let go of normalcy and grasp reality, namely the reality that there is more out there.

Some people learn everything they need to know in kindergarten. I, however, believe I learned all I need to know on Semester at Sea.

Apartheid has never been as evident as is was in the streets of South Africa, and the prison halls of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served 18 out of his 27 years behind bars.

I don’t think I will ever fully comprehend how truth and reconciliation retracted such a time of hatred. The hope of Archbishop Desmond Tutu still sparkles in the eyes of the locals, and his inspiration flooded the shipboard community when he graciously boarded the ship as a guest lecturer.

The open palms of barefoot children in the streets of India taught me that I should never complain that “I’m starving.”

In the pre-port lectures and diplomatic briefing, I was told that whatever is said about India, the reverse is also true. It is a country of contradictions. It is a beautiful, yet disgusting, feast for the senses. It is an empty crowd, a peaceful commotion, and a modernized past. India is an unreal reality.

Pulling into Vietnam all that was visible were muddy trenches that wove through sagging palm trees. The water was brown and the land was green, very green.

At this point, my movie morphed imagination tainted reality. A scene from Across the Universe flashed before me. It is as if I could actually see and hear the underwear clad soldiers carrying the Statue of Liberty. I was reminded that my freedom is an envied commodity in this land. As the ship docked, a row of young, traditionally dressed Vietnamese women held a banner that read, “Semester at Sea, Welcome to Vietnam.” They smiled and welcomingly waved.

They unconsciously represented the young nation which has forgotten the past and is focused on the future. America may be ahead of the game economically and militaristically, but the rest of the world has passed us up in the field of compassion and forgiveness. If only we were as welcoming to outsiders and as pure in our intentions.

Visiting the Bahamas, Brazil, Namibia, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Japan and Costa Rica was bittersweet. The voyage was only a sampler plate: sometimes I was thankful I did not get a full order of what the world was serving, and other places I completely gobbled up and wished there was more – more time, more resources, more discovery, and more funding.

Semester at Sea taught me the distinct difference between being a tourist and a traveler. By submitting to the ways of the world, literally, students learn to ask for help, be patient, live in the moment, research other countries, listen, observe, abandon comfort, and change.

For some people the passport stamps, photographs, and obscure souvenirs are adequate evidence of my globe trotting escapade, but I have more than that to show for my semester.

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