Semester at Sea
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Semester at Sea (SAS) is a study abroad program founded in 1963, now managed by the Institute for Shipboard Education in Charlottesville, Virginia. The University of Virginia is the current academic sponsor for the program while the program itself is run on a cruise ship called the MV Explorer. Throughout the history of the program, nearly 55,000 undergraduate students from more than 1,500 colleges and universities have participated in Semester at Sea.
During the spring and fall semesters, the approximately 100-day program circumnavigates the globe, with up to 720 undergraduates traveling from North America heading either east across the Atlantic or west across the Pacific, visiting from 8 to 11 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, before ending the voyage in another North American port. The program previously had voyages that would sail through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, but due to piracy concerns in the Gulf of Aden, voyages now typically travel around Africa. During the summer months, ISE hosts a shorter 65-day Semester at Sea program that concentrates on one general region of the world. Frequently, summer semester programs visit various ports in East Asia or Europe. In May 2011, Semester at Sea introduced a new short-term or Maymester voyage with a curriculum focused on the UN Millennium Development Goals. These voyages lasted 26 days and offered students the opportunity to earn 4–5 transferable credits. However, following the Maymester 2012 voyage, Semester at Sea made the decision to cancel Short-Term voyages indefinitely due to low enrollment.
Additionally, a two-week "Enrichment Voyage" program is held for continuing education participants during December and January. Itineraries for these voyages focus on Central America and South America, often transiting the Panama Canal or traveling up the Amazon River.
Students attend classes while the ship is at sea in a variety of subjects and disciplines. These classes are typically humanities classes connecting with one or more of the countries on the itinerary. All students are required to take Global Studies, an interdisciplinary core course; When the ship is in a port, no classes are held. Students are then able to travel on Semester at Sea sponsored trips or independently within the country. However, travel outside the country of port is strictly prohibited, resulting in dismissal from the program.
Although the University of Virginia is the academic sponsor for the program, Semester at Sea is open to students from any university. Faculty members are drawn from colleges and universities throughout the United States and around the world, including the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Bucknell University, Emerson College, Yale University, University of Pittsburgh, California Lutheran University, Chapman University, Bentley University, Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), Cornell University, Jacksonville University, Stanford University, University of Arizona, University of Michigan, National University of Singapore, University of Virginia, University of Colorado, University of Maine, University of Southern California, University of Connecticut, New York University and Columbia University.
Prior to arriving at a port, students receive a pre-port briefing on the country they are visiting regarding the culture and societal rules of the country they are visiting. Upon arriving at the port of call, special guest speakers, ranging from community leaders from the country to American ambassadors, give lectures to the students and faculty. The pre-port briefing as well as the guest lecture prepare students for what to expect while visiting the country.
Notable lecturers and guests
- Fidel Castro, Cuban President
- Anwar Sadat, Egyptian President
- Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister
- Mikhail Gorbachev, USSR President
- Corazon Aquino, President of the Philippines
- King Mohammed VI of Morocco, King of Morocco
- Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, Prince of Morocco
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate
- Mother Teresa, Nobel Laureate
- Nelson Mandela, First Black President of South Africa, Nobel Laureate
- Arthur C. Clarke, Author of 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Pete Peterson, First U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam
- Tung Chee Hwa, First Chief Executive of Hong Kong after end of British colonial rule
- Paul Muldoon, Irish poet
- Prince Fahad Al Saud, Prince of Saudi Arabia
The vessel that is currently used by ISE is the MV Explorer, a 24,300-ton former cruise ship with a length of 590 feet. Constructed in 2001 by Blohm + Voss shipbuilders in Germany, the ship had been operated by Royal Olympia Cruises until ISE acquired it in summer 2004.
Semester at Sea has used a number of ships as its floating campus, including the MS Seven Seas (formerly the USS Long Island), the SS Ryndam (not the later freighter of that name), the SS Universe (formerly the SS Atlantic) and the SS Universe Explorer. One ship SAS intended to use, the S.S. Seawise University (formerly the RMS Queen Elizabeth), burned and sank in Hong Kong Harbour during its conversion into a floating campus in 1972, and consequently was never used for students. The Universe Explorer, retired in 2005, had a structure of four main decks with a small swimming pool in the stern of the ship. The Seawise University, Universe, and Universe Explorer were supplied and managed by Tung Chao Yung's Seawise Foundation. Concerns about the split between the Institute for Shipboard Education and the Seawise Foundation as well as the safety of the MV Explorer contributed to the University of Pittsburgh severing ties with the program in 2005.
Semester at Sea was originally named University of the Seven Seas and later World Campus Afloat before gaining its present name in 1977. In December 2005, it was announced that the University of Virginia would begin academic sponsorship of the program in Summer 2006. Previous sponsors include the University of Pittsburgh (1981–2006), the University of Colorado (1977–1980), and Chapman University (1965–1975). World figures such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, and Fidel Castro have all met with the program's participants at various times during its history. In 1999, the program's fame was boosted greatly when it was featured on a season of MTV's reality television show Road Rules.
Ports of call
The itinerary of ports changes each semester, typically visiting approximately 10 ports around the world.
The ship docked in Denmark during summer 2008, in Namibia during fall 2008, Bulgaria during Summer 2009, and Ghana during Fall 2009, the first times in the history of the program that Semester at Sea had visited these countries.
Neptune Day celebration
When the ship passes the equator or the Mid-Atlantic Ridge for the first time on the Fall and Spring semester voyages, the students, faculty and crew of the vessel celebrate Neptune Day a line-crossing ceremony. Students are transformed from "polywogs" to "shellbacks" in an initiation ceremony, involving slime smearing, fish kissing, and (optional) headshaving. Neptune Day is one of several holidays celebrated during the voyage.
Students aboard the ship are divided into "seas" (occasionally including: Adriatic, Aegean, Baltic, Bering, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Red, Yellow, the Persian Gulf and 3 seas for the Lifelong Learners, Professors and children of faculty). The student seas are generally determined by the hallway of their deck. The seas then compete in an all-day Olympic challenge. Opening ceremonies are held the morning of, and no classes are held during the Olympics. Events may include anything from synchronized swimming to pull-ups, dodgeball, trivia, a lip-sync routine and a ship-wide relay. The winning sea gets bragging rights for the rest of the semester and a grand prize, which is usually being the first to disembark from the ship when it returns to the United States, and a celebration in the faculty/staff only lounge.
- B.J. Averell, S02 – CBS's The Amazing Race 9 Winner
- Adam Braun, S05 – Founder, Pencils for Promise
- David Chokachi, S89 – Actor on Baywatch
- Arthur C. Clarke, F80, S83, S84, F84, F85 – Novelist, Wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Stuart Damon, C05 – General Hospital
- Jim DiSpirito, S86 – Musician with Rusted Root band
- Joel Douglas, F67 – Film Producer – Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile
- Jessica Flannery – Co-Founder, Kiva.org
- Robert Fulghum, S01 – Author, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
- Stephen Gaghan, F86 – Screen Writer, Traffic
- Richard Lamm, S91 – Former Governor of Colorado
- Joan Lunden, F67 – TV Host
- Jeff Lysiak, F86 – Journalist
- Tyler Macniven, S02 – CBS's The Amazing Race 9 Winner
- Bob McKnight, F73 – CEO, Quiksilver, Inc.
- Jonathan Murray, S99 – MTV producer, Road Rules
- Cynthia Nixon, S86 – Actress – "Miranda" on TV show Sex and the City
- Kristoffer Polaha, F97 – Actor
- Scott Seamans, Co-founder, Crocs
- Iliza Schlesinger, S04 – NBC's Last Comic Standing Winner
- Daphne Sheldrick, S01 – Kenyan Naturalist, Expert on Elephants
- Kerri Strug, F00 – Olympic Athlete
- Richard Threlkeld, F94 – Journalist
- Evan Magers, F02 – Keyboardist in indie folk band Wild Child (band)
- Aubrey O'Day, F03 - Member of girl group Danity Kane
The Spring 1994 (SS Universe) voyage ended at Hong Kong because the ship was scheduled for dry-dock maintenance after the voyage. However, the ship was unable to consistently meet its sailing schedule during the semester due to persistent mechanical difficulties. The ship made several unscheduled stops, and had to anchor between ports while repairs were accomplished. The planned stop at Manila, Philippines was cancelled and the Universe rerouted to Singapore. Exams completed at anchor in the harbor, then the students and faculty flew to the next two planned ports of Osaka, Japan and Shanghai, China. The Universe met the students in Shanghai and completed the final leg of the voyage to Hong Kong.
Traveling in foreign countries poses risks for all travelers and a few incidents of non-shipboard fatalities have occurred to participants of Semester at Sea. One student died in a hiking accident on a 1993 voyage, and on SAS Spring 1996, five students were killed in a bus crash during a field trip in India.
The Fall 1997 voyage was re-routed due to terrorism concerns. On November 12, 1997, Ramzi Yousef was convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Consequently, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Americans in the Middle East. On November 17, 1997, while the ship was docked in Port Said, Egypt, and the students were in country, the Luxor massacre occurred. Although no students were involved, fears of further terrorism resulted in the next two ports, Israel and Turkey, being skipped and the ship re-routed to Cyprus and Spain.
On the Fall 2001 semester following the events of September 11, the S.S. Universe Explorer was redirected after its stop in Kobe, Japan. The planned route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia into the Indian Ocean then up through the Suez Canal to ports including Egypt and Croatia was changed by the State Department of the United States. The ship's route for the semester was then pushed south to include Singapore, Seychelles and Cape Town, South Africa. The ship's communication with other vessels in the Indian Ocean was limited due to the amount of American citizens on board and their security around the Indian Ocean area close to the Middle Eastern part of the globe.
On January 26, 2005, the MV Explorer weathered a combination of three storms in the north Pacific, and a 50-ft wave smashed the windows of the bridge, breaking one of them, and briefly affecting the navigation systems. After receiving a distress call from the vessel, the US Coast Guard dispatched a Lockheed HC-130 search and rescue plane (which shot footage of the vessel in the storm) and two cutters. There were no casualties, but two crew members were injured. While the vessel underwent repairs in Honolulu, Hawaii, Semester at Sea students were flown to Hong Kong to continue their courses. The MV Explorer rejoined the students in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and continued on to circumnavigate the globe and complete the semester without further incident. The ordeal is documented in an episode of the Weather Channel television series Full Force Nature, complete with home video taken by the students during the storm. Later that year, safety concerns were among the reasons cited by the University of Pittsburgh for ending its 24-year academic sponsorship of the program.
The Summer 2005 voyage was rerouted from London to Le Havre, France due to safety concerns after the London bombings on July 7.
During the Fall 2008 voyage, student Kurt Leswing was hit and killed by a drunk driver in Hong Kong.
For the Spring and Fall 2009 voyages, the itinerary had to be changed in order to avoid the possibility of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
During Spring 2011, the itinerary was changed following the tsunami that hit Japan. Instead, the MV Explorer docked in Taiwan.
In Fall 2012, Casey Schulman died from a boating accident while she and other students were swimming in the island nation of Dominica.
The Fall 2014 Voyage was rerouted from Senegal and Ghana to Italy and Spain due to CDC and State Department warnings about the Ebola Outbreak in Western Africa and future voyages have been rescheduled as well. 
- Nash, James (2010-01-07). "Wiltonian spends 'Semester at Sea'". Wilton Villager. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
- "Ship FAQ". Semester at Sea. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
- "Voyager's Handbook" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- "Media Kit". Semester at Sea. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
- Hart, Peter; Mary Ann Thomas (June 9, 2005). "Pitt to end pact with Semester at Sea program". University Times (University of Pittsburgh). Retrieved May 19, 2009. "...Pitt’s concerns, charging that ISE left unanswered repeated requests by Pitt “for detailed assurances” that the MV Explorer was seaworthy. Maher further maintained that ISE’s decision to part ways with the Seawise Foundation, which for many years had supplied both SAS’s previous ship, the S.S. Universe Explorer, as well as superior maritime management expertise, raised serious safety issues."
- "Program History". Retrieved 2009-05-19.
- "History and Timeline". Retrieved 2009-05-19.
- "Do your homework before a semester abroad". Retrieved 2012-05-15.
- "Semester at Sea – Summer 2008 Itinerary/Calendar". Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- Hong, Peter (1996) “Deaths Cloud Floating College : After Losing Children to Accidents, Parents Say Risks Weren't Publicized; Officials Defend Program”, http://articles.latimes.com/1996-06-17/local/me-15911_1_international-programs. Accessed 2011-06-30
- "Storm Stories". The Weather Channel. January 2005.
- "CRUISE FROM HELL!!!".
- "Semester at Sea ship narrowly averts disaster". Archived from the original on 2013-01-29. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- "Storm Stories". The Weather Channel. January 2005.
- Norville, Deborah (January 2005). "Semester at Sea". Inside Edition.
- Hart, Peter (2005-06-23). "Provost explains decision to drop Semester at Sea". University Times 37 (21) (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh). Retrieved 2010-08-25.
- "Trial begins in drunken driving death of US student visiting Hong Kong". Retrieved 2010-12-02.
- "UCSB Student Dies While on Study Program". Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- McCabe, Les (December 1, 2012). "STATEMENT FROM PRESIDENT LES MCCABE ON DEATH OF FALL 2012 SEMESTER AT SEA PARTICIPANT". Semester at Sea.
- Judge, Lauren (October 10, 2014). "UPDATE FOR FALL 2014, SPRING 2015, AND FALL 2015 PARTICIPANTS REGARDING EBOLA OUTBREAK, ITINERARY CHANGES". Semester at Sea.
- Official website
- The Smart Set: Is Responsible Travel Possible On Semester at Sea?
- Video Clip of Explorer leaving Halifax for the 2009 Summer Voyage