January 30, 2014

Semester at Sea ‘Opens Eyes’ To New Cultures

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By ZOE FERGUSON

Partway through their Semester at Sea study abroad experience, Cornell students praise the program’s ability to bring students together and provide real-world experience on a trip spanning 11 countries.

Along with over 500 students from universities around the world, the eight Cornell students onboard will take daily classes, earning credit through the University of Virginia, the academic sponsor of the program, according to Mallory McCarty, communications intern for the Institute for Shipboard Education, which manages the program.

The ship, called the MV Explorer, will periodically stop at various international ports for several days, according to McCarty. Students in the program boarded the MV Explorer in Ensenada, Mexico Jan. 10 and will disembark May 2 in Southampton, England.

One Cornell student participating in the program, Seth Martin ’16, said his decision to join the voyage was “the best choice that [he has] ever made.”

Martin said he “never realized how beautiful a real and pure human connection was” until he spent a few weeks “with people all stuck together.”

Aaron Rouser ’15 said participating in the program has provided him with an experience that he would have never received if he did not take this opportunity at sea.

“I have come to interact with a small portion of the world outside of Chicago and Cornell, and see cultures and ways of life vastly different from mine,” he said.

Onboard the Explorer, cell phone use is forbidden and Internet use is limited to about two hours for the entire semester. The lack of social media has kept students more focused on their coursework, according to Martin.

“We don’t want to be in port playing catch-up, so people work hard,” Martin said, adding that the learning environment onboard the ship is both “intense and invigorating.”

According to Rouser, students in the program are encouraged by their professors to put aside their books to get real-life experience.

“[We] experience and apply what we learn in the classroom to see the relevance that it holds in the real world.” Rouser said. “The world truly is our classroom, and class never ceases to be in session.”

Martin said the lack of technology onboard has also changed the way he thinks about his interpersonal relationships. He says he has come to realize that his use of technology at home is unnecessary.

“I will never use a cell phone at a dinner table again,” Martin said. “I look back on any time I’ve had my phone out unnecessarily when there was a real flesh-and-blood human being sitting next to me and cringe.”

Besides the removal from technology, Martin said he also appreciates the opportunity to experience life in different parts of the world. He said the only downside of his trip so far has been his “sheer incredulity” that students in America are not required to engage in study abroad or become fluent in a foreign language.

“Everyone in the United States, or Cornell to start, should be required to study abroad. You learn far more than you ever could [by] staying in one place,” he said.

Martin said his experience on the ship this semester has been “amazing” and “enlightening.”

“I will never stop traveling,” he said.

Rouser echoed Martin’s sentiment, saying he would never view the world around him the same way as he did before.

“I am just shy of a month in, but already this has been one of my most remarkable life experiences that I will never forget,” Rouser said.

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