Student rides waves, studies at same time

Joe Carlson

During her summer of study abroad, Alex Larson’s campus had all of the typical amenities and one additional feature — it floated.
“It’s like a floating university,” Larson said about the S.S. Universe Explorer, the ship where she studied for one semester.
Larson, an anthropology junior at the University, participated in Semester at Sea, a study abroad program founded in 1964 and run by the Institute for Shipboard Education, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh.
Semester at Sea gathers a group of students and faculty members together aboard a ship that travels across the globe over an academic semester. Credits are transferable to the university a student normally attends. The semester costs between $12,580 and $14,880, depending on a student’s room choice. Financial aid is available for interested students.
Students take classes while at sea, choosing from “50 courses, mostly in the social sciences and humanities,” said Paul Watson, director of Enrollment Management at the Institute for Shipboard Education.
The classes are taught from an international perspective, Watson said, and incorporate the specific ports the ship visits into their curricula.
Larson said Semester at Sea “offers the chance to experience other cultures and travel around the world … in a familiar environment.”
Larson was the only student on this voyage from the University of Minnesota. She said she found out about the program from a poster in Lind Hall.
Watson said Semester at Sea is “a departure from traditional study abroad programs,” which tend to focus on European nations.
The program studies “the non-Western world, with an emphasis on developing countries,” Watson said.
However, Larson’s voyage was unique for Semester at Sea. Normally, the ship travels around the entire globe, but a desire to include a regional focus caused the institute to experiment with a new summer program, Watson said.
“It’s so unusual compared to other study abroad programs,” Larson said. “We saw so much in such a short period of time,”
The voyage, which began in Ensenada, Mexico, visited six Pacific ports, including New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji, and lasted 57 days. By contrast, a normal program lasts more than 100 days.
“It was a very intense voyage,” Larson said. A common slogan onboard was “twice the voyage, half the time.”
Watson said there will not be a summer session for Semester at Sea next year, but possibly in 1998 or 1999.
Unlike past years, this voyage was traveled aboard the newly renovated 23,000 ton S.S. Universe Explorer. It is “newer, larger and much better equipped” than the previous vessel, Watson said.
But despite the larger size, only about 300 students, half the regular number, attended because of the shorter length of the voyage and its regional focus.
Semester at Sea, which has had more than 28,000 participants, has traditionally been well-received by students.
Lavine said “students love the program almost universally, … very few of them want to leave after the semester is over.”
For some students, the Semester at Sea program is a “life-changing experience, … a linchpin to their undergraduate education,” Watson said.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Larson said. “I’d definitely do it again.”