Guest column: A semester at sea

Danielle Martin

For two months, I woke up to the soft lull of the Mediterranean Sea. Every few days, I woke up in a new country. Every few days, I had to quickly master how to say, “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” in another language.

During the summer, I sailed with Semester at Sea, a unique program offering students (undergraduate and graduate alike) the opportunity to visit up to 12 countries in one semester. During my voyage, we visited England, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Malta, France, Spain and Portugal.

Because of this incredible voyage I had the opportunity to visit the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, Morocco, where the Center’s founder and academic director, Abdelhay Moudden, introduced us to politics, religious life and one of the world’s few remaining monarchies, In Turkey, we enjoyed hospitality and tea in markets as well as spoke with officials from the Antalya Water and Wastewater Administration General Directorate, who informed my class about environmental policies in the municipality. In Crete, Greece, I was able to visit the newly opened museum of natural history, with live reptiles, fossil exhibitions and even an earthquake simulator (you can imagine my delight as a native Californian).

In Italy, we saw the Colosseum and other great monuments, and, of course, indulged in the world’s best pizza. Malta, an island nation, is home to the world’s oldest freestanding megaliths, which we were able to visit on the island of Gozo. In France, I was able to converse with native speakers and improve my language skills, and in Spain, we learned about styles of and representations in architecture when we visited La Sagrada Familia. In Portugal, we walked long stretches of narrow streets and observed an entirely different schedule for life (dinner before 11 p.m.? Forget it.)

Throughout the voyage, we had guests such as State Department ambassador Maura Harty. We also lived with an international crew. The crew members came from almost any country you could think of: South Africa, the Philippines, Jamaica, Bulgaria and more. The diversity among the students and professors, who were all from different states and universities, contributed to the rich learning environment aboard the MV Explorer.

Travel changed me in so many beneficial ways: I am now more educated, of course, but also more grateful, more confident and more aware of my own culture. Visiting these different cultures had an impact that, at first, seemed paradoxical. It’s clear to me that humanity is universal, and people are people, wherever they live. I met individuals who greeted my foreignness with hostility, even while I quietly sipped a beer and sent a note to my loved ones, letting them know that I was indeed having “the experience of a lifetime.” But mostly, I met warm people who wanted to engage and have a multicultural experience themselves.

So why am I sharing all of this with you? I want you to know that you can experience this as well. My background is one of poverty and motivation to ascend via education. Travel is undeniably the best education you can receive. And you can, regardless of your financial situation, go on a voyage yourself. Semester at Sea offers considerable financial aid, from need to merit grants. Also, the Office of Global Education here have its own list of study abroad scholarships and a very helpful staff dedicated to getting you wherever you want to go. Should you decide you are interested in Semester at Sea, visit semesteratsea.org. In fact, you’re all welcome to contact me. As an SAS Global Ambassador, it’s my job to help aspiring voyagers get on the ship. So, when will you embark?

Contact Danielle Martin at [email protected]