With students from around the world, it would be hard to find two with the same exact story. For some their Semester at Sea voyage was a right of passage, for others this experience was a far off dream. For these students, coming on board was a combination of serendipity and tremendous effort.
Stumbling upon a Semester at Sea flyer when it dropped out of a book at the University of Sacred Heart, Joharys Torres-Cruz researched the program and decided to apply on a whim. She had only heard of it mentioned once before when the MV Explorer docked not far from her home in Sabana Hoyos, Puerto Rico. Anticipating she would not be accepted, Torres-Cruz did not tell her family or friends she applied.
When quite the opposite happened, she had the challenge of sharing the good news about her upcoming study abroad adventure. ‚ÄúMy parents were scared. Well not scared, they were terrified,‚Äù she added. Shocked by their daughter‚Äôs drive and enthusiasm for the program, her parents transformed their worry into support. ‚ÄúThey know what I want to do‚Ä¶ I was looking for a program that expands me completely,‚Äù Torres-Cruz concluded.
While academic life on the ship is significantly different from her studies in Puerto Rico, she has been delighted by the experience. With her professors showing a deep passion for their curricula, she sees this kind of education as a gift and a privilege. ‚Äú(Professors) they open a whole new world to you,‚Äù she added. Many ports still ahead of her, she finds herself ironically excited the most by one closest to home ¬≠‚Äì Cuba. With the intention of studying in the pre-medical field one day, Torres-Cruz has heard only good things about health care in Cuba and would like to see for herself.
An ocean currently between her and her loved ones, homesickness does occasionally make its way through. But she finds the community and the open seas as a comfort. She reflected, ‚ÄúYou go to deck 7. Look at the horizon. And everything is perfect.‚Äù
Jordanian student, Ghadeer Hamati, found out about the voyage through other friends around the world who had been researching the program. She currently studies at the American University of Beirut and is the first person from her school to enroll in Semester at Sea. With limited study abroad opportunities offered there, she thought the program was beyond unique. ‚Äú(I) couldn‚Äôt believe that something as extraordinary as this actually exists,‚Äù said Hamati. Navigating both visa and passport issues, Hamati fought tirelessly to make it to the ship. As her eyes wandered around, she admitted that she was still in denial that she was aboard the MV Explorer.
Traveling overland between ports, Hamati has learned a lot from her independent travel experiences. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm getting exposed to all of these different cultures around the world,‚Äù she added. Trying to keep her travels more spontaneous, she has made it a point to get outside her comfort zone. In Krakow, Poland, at a hostel with fellow students, she met people from over the world. The owner of the hostel even guided the group around the area and introduced them to locals‚Äô favorite spots. ‚ÄúI tried not to do just the touristy things and really interact with locals,‚Äù said Hamati. Continually impressed by the kindness of the people, she has great experiences with navigating the port countries. During her stay in Paris, France, someone stopped his morning run and spent 30 minutes helping her locate her final destination.
With a strong community aboard, she has felt a connection to both her peers and her coursework. Coming in as a business major, she found her entrepreneurship class to spark a potential change in her concentration of study when she returns to her home university.
When Ardalan Azimi was just a teenager his parents won the immigration lottery and his family was able to move from Iran to the United States. While his Persian heritage is strong and his parents speak a blend of Farsi and Persian at home, he considers himself a proud American citizen.
Currently the only student on board from Virginia Commonwealth University, Azimi is in his fourth year of college. Finding out about the program only when his girlfriend was accepted, he submitted his application right in time for the Fall 2014 voyage. Working two jobs and commuting to school daily, Azimi has never had time for extracurricular activities or felt truly a part of a student body. All of that changed when he first walked on the MV Explorer. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs kind of like a big family, and I get to interact with (the students) every day,‚Äù he added.
As he travels throughout the port countries, Azimi is excited not only to visit cultural sights but to meet locals from these nations as well. With a passion for people, he hopes to take his learnings and experiences home and share them with others. ‚ÄúI had to go through so many circumstances to be here. I am very blessed to have this experience in my life,‚Äù Azimi concluded.