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Semester at Sea: Taking Study Abroad to a Whole New Level

by Kathy de Jong, Independent Educational Consultant

Ahh. Many college students dream of taking a semester to live and learn in a foreign country. Study abroad opportunities are offered at nearly all 4-year institutions, but what if you could visit 11 countries on four continents during one semester abroad? The personal growth of the individual that had such an experience would be unmistakable.

Operated by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) in associating with Colorado State University, the Semester at Sea program has given over 68,000 students since 1963 the ability to have a world-wide, hands-on learning experience via boat.  

The MV World Odyssey is the current campus for Semester at Sea. The 175-meter ship has 10 decks, 9 classrooms and births to accommodate about 600 students. Simply put, it is a small, upscale cruise ship turned college campus. A typical Semester at Sea includes students from about 270 different colleges and universities; all earn a semester of college credits by taking classes when the ship is at sea. When in port, students participate in organized field programs, or they can create their own adventure.

The Spring 2019 Semester at Sea class departed San Diego, California on January 5th and disembarked in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on April 21st. They visited Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. Depending on the port, students could spend up to a week exploring the area. Semester at Sea does offer overnight excursions to explore other destinations. For instance, while in Vietnam, students may take a side-trip to Cambodia. Here is a video from this Semester at Sea. Semester at Sea Spring 2019

Students are able to fulfill their college course requirements with a selection 70+ courses primarily based around business, history, humanities, and a few ocean-related science courses. Lab-oriented classes are not offered due to the limited facilities onboard. It’s reasonable to assume that students will select classes to fill a few core requirements and electives, depending on the student’s home college requirements.

YouTube is filled with student videos from past semesters that make you want to sign up today. But what are the positives and negatives of this experience? On the positive side, students say that it was a life-changing experience. Partially because of the exposure to the world, but also because of the close sense of community that was formed as a result of four months with the same group of people. Participants get to be college students, but on a much broader scale, and learn how to manage themselves in various cultures and settings. Some even appreciated the fact that internet service was not available on a regular basis, so students had to live in the moment, and not on their phones.

On the negative side, the cost. This life-changing experience will set students back $25,000-$30,000 dollars for the tuition, room and board. Students pay extra for any pre-packaged excursions, snacks, etc. While this may be unthinkable at first glance, students can usually apply their normal college payment for a semester to this program, and pay the difference, if any. Many colleges offer study abroad scholarships and the Semester at Sea program offers scholarships and on-board job opportunities to defray the costs. Many outside scholarships are available and Semester at Sea maintains a list of scholarship resources on their website. Students can expect to pay several more thousand dollars for airfare to/from the ship, passports/visas, vaccinations, and miscellaneous expenses.

Are you an adult over 30 and think this sounds like a blast? There is still an opportunity to get on board! To provide a multi-generational experience, adults and families can also participate in the journey with full packages or “spotlight” packages for 30-45 day segments.

While the experience comes with a steep bill, students take away learning and experiences for a lifetime that can transform their future. 

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College in 3-2-1 provides comprehensive college preparation services for high school students including high school course selection, college research and list development, application assistance, essay consultation, and financial aid, extra-curricular and summer enrichment counseling.

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