Life at Sea
My first week on Semester at Sea has been very different from anything I’ve ever known. I had no clue who my roommate was until she walked into our windowless shoebox of a room on the fourth floor of the ship. I quickly learned that she is originally from Germany but graduated from her three-year high school in Costa Rica just last summer. We share a space only slightly bigger than a walk-in closet but, given the amount of time we spend roaming the ship, that space is more than enough.
When this 126th Semester at Sea voyage began, all the students were virtually in the same boat (pun intended). Most everyone did not know another soul, including myself, and the hunt for a solid friend group began immediately. My first days were spent sitting at a new table for every meal, introducing myself and small-talking my way to the people I could see myself independently travelling with in-port. The students here share a love for travel and a curiosity for what the world has to offer, so making friends is suggestively easier than your typical land-locked campus.
There’s also the no Wi-Fi factor. Forced to do things other than scroll mindlessly for hours on our phones and lock ourselves away in our caves full of Netflix sitcoms and Hulu series, voyagers stay busy by playing board and card games. Hours and hours of card games. And hours. I think I’ve played enough BS in the past five days to last me several lifetimes. But there is something so refreshing about the inability to access the internet aboard this ship. Where in the world can you find 650 college students off their phones, actually communicating the old-fashioned way of face-to-face conversation? In the middle of the ocean, that’s where.
Class on the ship is not unlike what I experienced at UA, but the schedule is vastly different. There are no week days or weekends since we are constantly moving, and the dates and times change too frequently, so we follow an alternating A and B class schedule. This means that we could have class anywhere from two to eight days in a row, with port stops as our weekends. It all depends on the itinerary.
Every student is required to take a Global Studies course in the Kaisersaal Union, the main meeting area on the ship. This course reviews the meaning of globalization, the history and other important ideas of the destinations we are going to visit, and mixes in some lessons on Oceanography. Other classes are held anywhere on the ship including the library, any of the four restaurants, and even on the Lido deck beside the vast ocean.
I spend my free time (and boy, do I have a lot of it) reading by the pool, playing games with my new friends, and napping. I have never slept this well in my entire life. The constant rocking of the boat simulates a giant cradle, and I am knocked out as soon as my head hits the pillow. This is a blessing and a curse, because while I sleep like a baby at night, I remain tired throughout the day, especially in dark classrooms with cozy chairs.
The ship-rocking is pleasant, but to an extent. On calmer days, voyagers are happy and healthy, but when the captain comes on the intercom to announce harsh weather and large swells to come, everyone slaps on their seasick patches and pops nausea pills like their lives depend on it. It’s entertaining to watch students pinballing-down the hallways as the ship braves massive waves, until I find my own legs crisscrossed and I stumble into a wall or two. I only majorly felt the effects of the ocean on my second day, but since then I have attained my “sea legs” as the crew calls it. My roommate, on the other hand, has not been so fortunate. There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of violent vomiting at 5:30 in the morning. It will take some more time, but I am sure our bodies will soon adapt to the instability.
By the time I reached my first destination in Hawaii, I had not seen land in seven days. That fact amazes me when I really think about it. I’d been sailing across the Pacific Ocean for 2,000 nautical miles to the most isolated chain of islands in the world, all while taking college courses with a ship-full of other students from around the world. This floating campus is unlike any other, and I can safely say that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.