We’re all in the same boat: UK student’s experience during Semester at Sea


A sample of shipboard cuisine. Photo by Akhira Umar

Akhira Umar

BAY OF BISCAY — As I lie in my cabin bed, rocking back and forth with the motion of the ship, I often marvel at my life this semester. In 106 days, I’ll have been to about a dozen countries with a few hundred other students, exploring, learning and growing in ways I wasn’t at home.

Although Semester at Sea (SAS) does give a unique experience to students by taking us around the world, it also provides perspective. As its name implies, this program travels by sea. In fact, us voyagers will spend roughly half of the semester on the ocean. I went from never having touched a ship before to calling the German cruise ship MV World Odyssey home, and I know I’m not the only one. So, the learning curve here can be a bit interesting at times.

Ship life, I guess you could say, comes in waves — there are good days and bad days, just like anything else. But everything on the ship brings a new experience. Take for example the cabins. A SAS cabin isn’t the type of room you spend your days in. It’s a place of between-class naps, handling seasickness and hiding gossip. Though the rooms are small, they’re always clean, thanks to the stewards.

If dining at regular school seems crazy, then dining on the ship is pure chaos. With the absence of restaurants to visit in the middle of the ocean, everyone on the ship eats during the same two-hour eating periods. The dining rooms that act as relatively quiet study areas throughout the day turn into nosy, bustling rooms for the masses. But amidst the fuss are the diligent crew members who readily take up our empty plates, making me feel like I have parents cleaning after me again like old times.

With everything that goes on, sometimes it’s hard to remember SAS is for school. Though class is only in session while at sea, it can be daunting to have class every day, including weekends. What makes up for that are small classes, easy-to-access to professors and classmates who are only a few doors or decks away. It can be hard to find a quiet spot besides your room to study, but luckily professors are fairly understanding. After all, we’re all in the same boat (or ship, to be precise).

Though many people joined this voyage without knowing a soul, sharing only seven decks with a couple hundred people can lead to some great connections. It can feel like elementary school with how fast it can be to make friends on the ship, but that’s because we’re all in this together. We all share the same steamed vegetables and potatoes at lunch, the same 7 a.m. wake up call from the intercom, the same view of sunsets on the ocean horizon, and the same feeling of excitement when we dock. From sea to sand, it’s all an adventure.