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And We're Off….Students Embark on the SAS Fall 2013 voyage

A student captures the moment (and the MV Explorer) before heading aboard for the start of the Fall 2013 voyage.

The Q.E. II Terminal in Southampton, England was abuzz as hundreds of students arrived to start their adventure at sea as part of Semester at Sea’s Fall 2013 50th anniversary voyage.

While embarkation day is very much the beginning of the Semester at Sea (SAS) experience, it’s also the welcome finale to months of applications, visa requests, packing and anticipation. And it’s the inevitable farewell to family.

Erin Kellogg (left) and Daniela Ferraro (right) arrive at the Q.E. II ship terminal from the shuttle bus from Heathrow Airport.

The morning of embarkation saw students streaming in to the Q.E. II Terminal via crowded taxicabs and rental cars piled with oversized rolling duffel bags. They came by the busloads too, shuttled straight from the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport.They arrived with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Moms teared up as if almost on cue.

Hector Rocha, 18, from Mexico together with his cousin, Carolina Hernandez, 19, her friend Marina Brockman, 19, and all of their parents waited a few more minutes, then a few more….then a few more still, until the students absolutely had to board the MV Explorer, their home for the next four months along with 573 students from across the U.S. and the world.“This is the right moment for him, for all of them, to do this because after this you have to study at university in your field and this opportunity will not be available for him again,” said Hector’s father, Enrique Rocha. “I think he will get a life experience after this like nothing before.”

Hector, Carolina and Marina, all gap year students, will attend the Universidad IberoAmericana in Mexico when they complete their Semester at Sea experience.

Hector Rocha gets a hug from his mom while his cousin, Carolina Hernandez, is embraced by her parents before leaving to board the ship.

They were drawn to SAS after hearing so much about it from their cousin, Ines Hernandez, who sailed in on the Fall 2012 voyage. “She said it was amazing and she told us all that we should have the same experience,” Hector explained.

Second-time SAS-participant, Carson O'Conner of Kansas State University said her previous SAS experience taught her to bring warm clothes to combat windy decks and magnets to hang her pictures and posters.

When asked what they would miss most from home, many students listed friends, family, food, and life in general. However, Cody Varela, a business management major at Pace University in New York, said he wouldn't miss a thing. He was too excited for life at sea.

Cody Varela (left) and Tanner Sterling Mar (right) enter the first stage of registration for the Fall 2013 voyage.

This semester’s voyage is particularly special as Semester at Sea celebrates 50 years of exposing college students to a unique global and comparative education. In addition, the voyage will be sailing to Cuba for the first time since 2004. First, members of this shipboard community will spend time exploring Russia, Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil.

A select group of students will visit the United Nations Palais de Nation (formerly League of Nations) in Geneva, Switzerland where as youth delegates they will attend the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 24th session, the first time in the council’s history.The new voyagers were greeted by Academic Dean Kathy Thorton and Executive Dean Nick Iammarino who offered some advice and inspiration for the next 115 days: “In the words of St. Augustine: ‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.’ ….We are going to read many chapters of that book this Fall,” said Dean Nick Iammarino.

As the MV Explorer sounded its horn to signal its departure from the Southampton harbor, students enthusiastically gathered along the ship’s railings armed with bubbles and 50th anniversary balloons blowing wildly in the strong wind.

Despite their separate and diverse backgrounds, home lives, majors, and interests, during embarkation and each day since, students on the Fall 2013 voyage have united and together share a common excitement for the future.

To follow Semester at Sea’s Fall 2013 50th anniversary voyage, check for updates every weekday here on the News from the Helm blog, or follow the voyage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

—Tom Bertrand, a senior at the University of Connecticut and a Fall 2013 voyager, contributed to this story.

  • Education
  • Gap Year
  • Life at Sea

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