Studying in the classroom and exploring in port

It’s been a whirlwind of nearly a month. The MV Explorer has already docked in its first five ports—England, Russia, Germany, Belgium and France—and we’ve had 12 class days while at sea. While it has only been a short amount of time, life on the ship has quickly become a routine.

Instead of a traditional Monday through Friday class schedule, Semester at Sea works on an “A” day–“B” day schedule, during which classes are only held during our time at sea and not in port. For me, this means filling my days with variations of what I would do back at the University of Miami: working out in the fitness center, attending classes, doing a workout video with my friends, completing homework assignments, attending seminars, enjoying my meals outside on the decks and spending time with friends.

Except on this campus, after ever few days of class (so far three days in between each port), I get the chance to get off the ship and explore an entirely new country. And along the way to each, I eat my meals and take notes in class overlooking scenery that is constantly changing. Sometimes we can see land, and other times, like today, we got to see dolphins swim alongside the MV Explorer during our lifeboat drill. Some of my friends also spotted whales this morning. The sea depth is now 2.8 miles, perfect conditions for whales, so we are all on the lookout.

Disembarking the ship in St. Petersburg, Russia was entirely different from doing so in Hamburg, Germany, and that was different from Antwerp, Belgium, or Le Havre, France because each country is so unique. It can be difficult to prepare for the different cultures, people and languages of each country, but luckily Semester at Sea does its best to make sure we are as prepared as possible for this seemingly daunting task.

Two nights before we arrive in port, professors and visiting experts lead a “Cultural Pre-Port” meeting for the shipboard community. This is where faculty members discuss the culture, architecture, history, music or geography of the upcoming country in their area of expertise. This way we voyagers can enter the country with both an understanding and appreciation of where we are going. This also allows us to better embrace common customs and learn about the histories of each country.

The following evening (the night before we arrive in port), we have a “Logistical Pre-Port” meeting when the voyage deans go over safety precautions, transportation and overall logistics of the country. Each member of the community receives a “green sheet,” a paper that lists field programs (trips) and in-port classes (called field labs), tips for getting around, time to get back on the ship the final day in port (“on ship time”), common phrases in the specific language, currency exchanges, emergency phone numbers, hospital locations, and most importantly, the location of where the MV Explorer is docked.

It seems as though everyone on the ship is falling into a daily routine between classes and studying, but in reality, every day is different. Whether we’re stopping class to point out whales to one another or listening to a speech by a foreign diplomat in the student union, our floating campus is truly one unlike any other.