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Living Vicariously: Student Waits 13 Years to Sail with SAS

Emily’s class of eager sailors. The class participated in SAS’s Vicarious Voyage program during her first grade. Photo provided by Emily Tomich.

Emily Tomich, an exercise science and public health sophomore from Elon University, has been waiting to sail with Semester at Sea for as long as she can remember.

When she was just six-years-old, Tomich’s first grade class at Alta Sierra Elementary School in Grass Valley, California, took part in Semester at Sea’s Vicarious Voyages program—a program in which students on board the SAS ship write letters and send photos or souvenirs to elementary students around the world.

What Tomich learned in the spring of 1999 from her correspondence with Semester at Sea students sparked her interest and passion for travel, and studying abroad with SAS became a lifelong dream.

“The way we learned was all-encompassing,” Tomich said. “We got to taste the food, see the photos, hear the music. It got me so excited about the world.”

Tomich’s first-grade teacher, Mrs. Thayer, took extra steps to help her students learn about the world, she said. Parents of the class would cook ethnic food from different countries, and the students would dress up in local dress on certain days.

Meanwhile, on the SS Universe, the students of Semester at Sea were writing letters and sending souvenirs to Tomich’s class.

“I remember learning about the pink dolphins in the Amazon and thinking ‘how can dolphins be pink?’” Tomich said. “I remember the students writing to tell us about hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town, and our teacher creating a mountain of desks so that we also could hike Table Mountain.”

The spark of travel was ignited at age six for Tomich, but her parents helped instill the drive to give back through travel. While on mission for her church, Tomich visited Swasiland, a country that inspired her to pursue education in the field of public health, which she’s now studying.

To pay it forward even more, Tomich is now participating in a Vicarious Voyage program as a Semester at Sea student.

“I’m now participating with a third grade class in Virginia,” Tomich said. “That’s my way of giving back. I just think it’s so important to instill knowledge of the opportunity to study abroad; to spark the interest of seeing the world and discovering how other people live.”

Now that she’s finally on board the MV Explorer, has it lived up to her expectations? A thousand times yes, said Tomich. And then some.

“I cried when we left the port, not because I was going to miss my family and friends, but because it was finally real,” Tomich said. “I was sailing away with Semester at Sea.”

The souvenirs Emily has of her first-grade vicarious voyage program. Her teacher had the students create small paper mache ships so that they could better follow the voyage of the S.S. Universe.



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