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On Semester at Sea, Friends Encourage Each Other to Sail & See the World
A Semester at Sea voyage is an experience best shared. As most students board without knowing their shipmates, sharing memories means making new friends. But some lucky voyagers boarded the MV Explorer in August with laptops, backpacks and friends from home.
Among students on this 50th anniversary voyage, who knew each other before embarkation, are a brother and sister, swimming teammates, a boyfriend and girlfriend, and twin sisters.
Identical twins Janita and Jalisa Harris, seniors at Washington State University, have been confused for one another throughout their lives. So, this voyage is a search for individuality as much as a test of their teamwork. Originally, Jalisa wanted to study abroad—immersed in one country for a year—but Janita didn’t, until she noticed a SAS poster on campus. To compromise, they decided to study this fall with SAS and next spring in Kenya.
Sharing a cabin, meals, and experiences in port, Janita and Jalisa say they work more effectively as a team than they do separately.
“I applied for the visas for the both of us and I also booked our flights and hotels,” explains Jalisa. “Janita is all about making a difference, being active, and getting involved. I’m more about getting from point A to point B, so we work well together.”
The voyage is the first time the twins have traveled outside the U.S. And they’ve learned many lessons along the way. “Traveling with my sister, I’ve learned to go with the flow more and adapt to each country's lifestyle,” says Janita.
Byron Bunda first sailed with SAS in Spring 2012. He quickly signed up to return for the Fall 2013 voyage. Then he met, and started dating, Erin Walsh and he convinced her to come abroad.
“When I met Erin,” Byron says, “I told her all about my experience with Semester at Sea and although she immediately fell in love with the idea, she never thought she could possibly sail on a voyage because of the cost. I pushed her to submit an application and after she was admitted she applied for the various financial support that ISE offers. A few weeks later she received the news that she could actually make Semester at Sea a reality.”
Before meeting Byron, studying abroad wasn’t something Erin had seriously considered.
“Byron always talked about the wonderful things he did on his last voyage and all the great things he couldn't wait for on the next voyage. I had always thought it sounded like a great opportunity, but it was always his thing,” says Erin. “Once we became closer, and I learned more about the program, I decided it was something I would love to do.”
The University of Connecticut juniors have immersed themselves in the SAS community and in the various countries and now have a bad case of wanderlust and a greater appreciation for one another and for relationships.
“Spending a semester at sea with someone—friend or significant other—is such a powerful experience that it nurtures a relationship more than a year does at home,” says Byron.
Nadine Edwards and Kaitlyn Simoneau, swimming teammates at Bentley University, were both intrigued by SAS, but Kaitlyn really pushed for the Atlantic voyage early on.
“Every day, at swimming practice I would joke around about living on a ship,” says Kaitlyn, “and eventually we both set our minds on it.”
As Division II athletes, Bentley swimmers are allowed to study abroad during their junior year. Having a friend to wade through the application, visa, scholarship, and travel reservation processes made the process a lot easier.
“I think I texted Nadine every day with a new question about the application, visa and travel process,” Kaitlyn admits.
Working together, the swimmers arrived in Southampton and climbed aboard the ship they had read so much about. The pair travel together, learning to embrace the unexpected.
“It’s easy to travel with Kaitlyn because even if we get lost we always have fun. We try to make the most of every situation,” says Nadine.
Brother and sister Connor and Mary Kate MacKinnon also decided to sail together for their semester abroad. Though their decision was ultimately mutual, it was Mary Kate who got Connor out the door.
“I researched SAS and thought Connor should take advantage of the opportunity with me,” says Mary Kate, a senior at Mercyhurst University. “Connor was on board with it. It’s hard to say ‘No’ to such a trip and he didn’t need a lot of convincing. He agreed that the voyage would be life changing.”
Together, Mary Kate and Connor, a junior at Canisius College, have discovered the countries together including a camel trek in Morocco. They, like many siblings and friends sailing together, know that experiencing new cultures and Semester at Sea together is something special.