Junior Dave Korn first heard about Semester at Sea last spring through a student in his anthropology class. He had been interested in studying abroad but was still uncertain about where he wanted to study. This changed when he visited the program’s Web site and discovered that he could be spending a semester traveling the world by boat while still taking college courses.
“I was just amazed at some of the places we are going to, places I’ve dreamed of going to,” said Korn, a psychology major. “I love traveling. It’s one of those important things to me.”
Semester at Sea is a program sponsored through the University of Virginia that creates a floating, moving university on board the “MV Explorer,” a 590-foot ship.
“It’s a life changing experience,” junior Patrick Patton said. “When I went to a country I didn’t know about, I got to first hand experience the culture of that country.”
There are approximately 700 students and 65 faculty and staff on each voyage. Rooms are shared by two people and have their own bathroom. The ship also has an 8,000-volume library.
“It opens your eyes to the world,” junior Cynthia Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann had the opportunity to stay in a Dalit village in India as a part of a “home stay,” a program that allows students to stay with assigned families for a night.
“When you go to these other countries, you realize what they have to live with, but then again how happy they are,” she said. “You are just so sheltered here [in the U.S.].”
There are more than 75 courses offered through the Semester at Sea program during fall and spring semesters. Students meet with their academic adviser beforehand to get approval for classes.
Patton said he performed better academically during SAS than he had all previous semesters in college.
“[The professors] related everything you learned in class to the countries [visited] in some way,” he said.
When the ship arrives at a port city, students are allowed to travel anywhere in the country as long as they are back on the ship before it leaves. This typically gives students three or four days to explore without curfews.
“During my time in South Africa, I went cage diving with great whites, went on a safari and I even saw whales and dolphins [while] taking a ferry to Robben Island,” Patton said. “[In Hawaii] I went parasailing and I never thought I would do something like that.”
There were also planned trips in the various countries that allowed students to get out and see the country.
“I did a home stay in Japan where I stayed at this family’s home for a night,” said Patton, adding that the people he met in each country were generally friendly.
The cost of a voyage, which includes tuition, room, board, premium travel health insurance and access to e-mail, ranges from $17,975 in the fall to $19,950 in the spring, or $9,795 for the summer semester.
Financial aid and scholarships are available to all students, who are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA, a free application for student financial aid.
Voyages during fall and spring semesters visit 10 different countries and last 108 days. In the summer, the trip lasts about 70 days. Students receive between nine and 12 transferable credits through the University of Virginia.
“The way I see it, is that we have eight semesters of college,” Korn said. “I can either do eight in exactly the same place or do seven [at UM] and take one doing something completely different.”
Korn will be attending the Spring 2009 voyage, which starts Jan. 19 in Nassau, Bahamas, and ends on May 6 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I am ready to just go in and come out a different person,” Korn said. “I know I can’t have any expectations because whatever happens, happens.”
Students interested in SAS can apply online at www.semesteratsea.org. This includes completing an application with a $50 non-refundable fee, writing a 300 to 500 word essay and having at least a 2.75 cumulative GPA with good academic standing.