I distinctly remember one night last spring. To be exact, it was February 16, 2016.
I was in bed browsing the web at around 2am until I fell asleep—my semi-usual routine. It’s really a poor practice, I know, but it’s in the darkness of night that some of my brightest thoughts develop. Studying abroad had been on my mind that day, so I was searching for different stay away programs. At the top of the search was an ad for a “Semester at Sea.”
“Suite Life on Deck?” I thought.
I clicked around the site, and immediately fell in love with the idea of spending a semester away from Oberlin, traveling around the world. The website was filled with amazing images of students studying with deep blue waves trailing their paths and students in front of some of the world’s most iconic sites.
Naturally I texted my friend Javi, who, of course, was still awake with me.
We had discussed studying abroad at some point, and informally decided the best time would be second semester Junior year. However, I was already sold. I wanted to get on this ship as soon as possible. We parsed through some of the details together, and unfortunately the credits wouldn’t transfer well to Javi’s academic plan. I still wanted to go.
The next day (really just a few hours later—this interaction was in the wee hours of the morning) I visited the study abroad office on campus to learn more about the process. The deadline was quickly approaching, so I knew if I really wanted to do this I had to act fast. I immediately applied to the program, and not too long after I was accepted.
Because Semester at Sea is an unaffiliated program in the eyes of Oberlin (meaning there is no official connection or relationship established) the process of applying to go away was even longer than the regular application. I had to consult with my advisor, who happened to be the department chair, to make sure this specific program would work well with my academic path. After looking through course descriptions, we agreed that the program was legitimate and that the course credits would transfer.
From there, I had to do my own research on the courses, professors, and the program to write a detailed explanation of why I should be permitted to partake in this particular experience, what it would offer to me, and how it would further my academic mission at Oberlin. This was taxing, but I was determined. Eventually I turned in all the paperwork, and it then, as most bureaucratic processes do, turned into a waiting game.
The semester ended, and by that time I should have heard back regarding my status. I hadn’t. It wasn’t until later in the summer, after calling the incredibly sweet administrative assistant almost weekly, that I was informed the committee approved my application to go away and my specific program.
I was elated, but this was only the start of a long period of preparation.
Receiving the passport case was more than a token of congratulations; it was a reaffirmation of my mom’s unwavering support for all that I choose to take on in life.
Since the day I received my final approval, I’ve renewed a (what was) soon-to-expire passport, acquired three visas (China, India, and Ghana), and gathered all sorts of items for the trip (everything from travel laundry sheets to money belts to new socks). Yet, the item that most resonates with me is a passport case my mom sent me shortly after I received acceptance from Semester at Sea.
The morning I found Semester at Sea, I called my mom and briefly discussed the prospect of me leaving for four months to journey around the world. She didn’t take too comfortably to the idea at first, as I expected. It’s a large gesture one that raises lots of questions about safety, legitimacy, and costs. We talked through a lot of these concerns, and eventually all the hesitations were reconciled with the program’s longstanding history and the perceived benefits of completing the voyage.
Receiving the passport case was more than a token of congratulations; it was a reaffirmation of my mom’s unwavering support for all that I choose to take on in life. And for that I was extremely grateful.
In October, I was delighted to hear back from a scholarship I applied to. College, especially studying abroad, isn’t always the most budget friendly activity. Fortunately, I discovered several scholarship opportunities available, and many specifically to Semester at Sea. DiversityAbroad.com awarded me one of their four Semester at Sea scholarships, which included a generous award of $5,000 plus the costs of flights to and from.
On the topic of flights, I’m actually writing this entry on the flight from Detroit to San Diego, sitting behind a lady who seems unable to find her comfort and readjusting every (unknowingly hitting my computer) five or so minutes. Although a little frustrating in the eyes of productivity, I find some strange connection to her discomfort.
While I’ll admit that there are some pretty nice amenities available to us, what I value deeply are what I consider shared values between Oberlin and Semester at Sea.
For the next few months, I’m expecting to endure many moments of discomfort, challenge, and frustration. With that, I also expect to enjoy many more moments of pleasure, smell some amazing scents (looking at you, India), witness some captivating scenes, and to have my worldview opened beyond some of my wildest dreams.
Some of my friends have jokingly (and seriously) said that I’ll be taking a four month cruise. After I happily corrected them—explaining that Semester at Sea prefers the term voyage—I explained to them much of what I’m excited for beyond the stereotypical party atmosphere of a “cruise.” While I’ll admit that there are some pretty nice amenities available to us, what I value deeply are what I consider shared values between Oberlin and Semester at Sea. For one, there’s an idea of an intimate shipboard community. This community mirrors Oberlin’s commitment to a small but vibrant community at a small liberal arts college.
At Oberlin, the mantra goes “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” So much of the world needs changing, and there are some issues I want to take on head first. I’ll be away for most of the first hundred days of America’s new executive leadership, but I expect several unpresidented (read: unprecedented) challenges. The classes I’m taking seem rather well suited to explore and to offer greater understanding of these challenges.
On the ship, I’ll be taking four courses: International Security; Globalization, Sustainability, and Justice; Interpersonal Communication Skills, and Global Studies. Each is very fitting in its own merit, with three of them directly transferring to my Politics major and minor in Rhetoric and Composition. International Security is particularly relevant, considering the emerging global tensions, changing global leadership, and a seemingly renewed eagerness for the U.S. to engage in conflict across borders. The course on globalization lends itself useful considering the growing rates of economic inequality in the United States (as evidenced by clear voting lines in the 2016 election cycle) coupled with global inequity. The rich are getting richer and the poorer are getting poorer, but how do we ensure even the lowest on this socially (im)mobile planet are given the resources they need to live a full life? I’m eager to explore these questions as well.
In reference to the communications course, I’m particularly interested in growing in my understanding of how to talk to people with whom you disagree. Many contemporary thought leaders are under the impression that talking across the political aisle will magically fix many of the growing issues of partisanship and polarization. While I don’t think “just talking” really fixes anything, and that words must be met with action, I do think there is something to be said about communicating ideas effectively. Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin focuses heavily on the tangible forces of diction, clarity, writing methods. Recently the department also decided to take on speech. What I feel like I’m missing back home at Oberlin, I may get through a more communications generally centered course.
Global Studies is the only required course, and it’s required of all students on board. It serves as an introductory course looking at global issues generally but also serves to investigate many of the places we will visit on the voyage.
As cliché as it may sound, I’m just ready.
The grandeur of the world awaits.