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Alumna Visits Explorer and Recalls '73 Voyage

The ship was all of metal, the cabins reminiscent of cargo containers, with foldup bunks. After the first month, the food was less than appetizing. Students even helped clean the ship from time to time.  “We thought it was Utopia,” says Sandra Johnson Owen, who sailed with Semester at Sea in 1973.

“I wanted to experience the world. I was restless, confused, not sure what I wanted to do with my life,” Sandra says, remembering her 20-year-old self. After a semester looping the Pacific Ocean, “for the first time, something made sense for me. When I got off the ship, it became clear to me what I wanted to do with my life.”

Sandra was the guest of executive dean Roslyn Berne for three days while the MV Explorer was moored in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, the third port of the Maymester voyage. She and Roslyn met through friends about a year ago, and they discovered that Roslyn is vice president of academic affairs for the program that Sandra knew as World Campus Afloat when she was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.

It was the seminal experience of her young life. “It changed my whole attitude toward my studies,” she said. “When I came on Semester at Sea, I wanted to go to my classes. I was inspired.”

The SS Universe set sail from California with ports of call in Hawaii, Japan (“where I learned about dock time,” Sandra remembers), Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, American Samoa, Fiji (“dysentery”) and Bora Bora.

“We were required to do certain activities,” she said. “We had to visit certain museums and monuments and write reports.” There were also adventures, like flying into Papua, New Guinea.

The voyage took her to Manila, where she met the 4-year-old girl her parents were sponsoring through a children’s organization. “She spent four days with me, living in my cabin,” Sandra remembers. “After that, I knew I wanted to go into elementary education. I just loved being with the children.”

She finished her degree at the University of Florida. Marriage and motherhood detoured her from her imagined life living overseas as a single and childless teacher. She returned for a master’s degree in education media and technology and worked as a school technology and media librarian for 15 years.

“I tried to share my passion for global consciousness with my students,” she says.

Still the adventurer, she and her husband bought a ranch in Venado, Costa Rica, and they hope to become full-time residents soon.

She’s excited for the current generation of Semester at Sea students, “the opportunity they have to experience the diversity, the beauty and the awe of the earth.”  But she’s not giving advice. “This is their journey,” she says.

Her biggest regret, Sandra says, is not keeping track of her shipmates. Of course, that wasn’t as easy in 1973 as it is today.

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  • Life on Land

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