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Shaping the Changing World with Abby Aronson

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“The face of the world keeps changing, and it’s imperative to have the skills to contextualize those changes if you want to keep up.”

Abby Aronson muses while sitting in the Kaisersaal on board the MV World Odyssey. The Kaisersaal, trimmed to the nines in burgundy and gold accents and adorned with a beautiful chandelier, once hosted stars of the stage. It now hosts Semester at Sea’s union, serving as a classroom and gathering place for the current voyagers. Abby has a megawatt smile, and speaks passionately about her 18 years of experience in the United States Foreign Service. Currently serving in Athens, Greece, Aronson is the U.S. Consul and Chief of American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy. Her team is tasked with protecting the welfare of U.S. citizens living and traveling in Greece. Her area of expertise is consular affairs, but she’s also served as a political and economic officer and served a tour in the Legislative Affairs Bureau. Previously, she’s held positions as the U.S. Consul in Chennai, India, and Tirana, Albania. Abby started her service in the State Department with postings in Melbourne, Australia and San Salvador, El Salvador.

25 years ago, however, Aronson wasn’t a veteran of the State Department with postings in five countries and five languages in her repertoire. 25 years ago, Abby was a Russian and Soviet Studies major at University of Pennsylvania, who was considering her options for study abroad.

“I knew I wanted to study aboard, and the obvious choice was to go to the Soviet Union. But while researching programs, I found out about Semester at Sea. It was my mom who actually convinced me. She said I would always have the opportunity to spend time in Russia, but I might never again have the opportunity to use the world as a classroom. It didn’t take a lot of convincing, but it definitely helped me decide.”

That was Spring ‘90, on the SS Universe, “the great white mother,” Aronson calls it, sailing from Nassau to Seattle. The itinerary included ports of call mirrored on the Fall ’15 voyage, including Dubrovnik, Croatia, where Aronson joined this voyage as an interport diplomat traveling to Piraeus (Athens), Greece.

“I was reflecting a lot as I took the bus into Dubrovnik and thinking about the first time I was here, it was called Yugoslavia. The ship was the Universe. There was no seaport. We had to anchor out in the water and take tenders, boats that act as shuttles between large ships and land, into port. And when you looked down at Old Town, the tiles on the roofs were much browner. They were hundreds of years old.

“Now, it’s Croatia. The ship is the World Odyssey. There’s a seaport and the tiles are much brighter orange because Dubrovnik went through the war, and still came out of it. Those tiles, they’re going to fade, but they’re still there, even through the worst of what humanity could throw at the city, its soul still survives. That really struck me.”

This voyage marks Abby’s third sail with Semester at Sea and her third ship. She also sailed as an interport diplomat in Spring ’13 on the MV Explorer from Burma to India, where she was stationed in Chennai as Country Coordinator for Fraud Prevention Programs for Mission India. She says that flexibility is one of the biggest lessons she learned from her time as a student on Semester at Sea.

“The world has very much changed. Even the map of the world, including the map of the SAS world has changed. And I’ve had the perspective of before, during my own Semester at Sea, and it formed who I would become. My experience sailing with Semester at Sea, whether it’s forefront in my mind everyday or just the layers and foundations I developed, has been a huge influence in my approach to being flexible, open to adventure and wanting to get the most out of experiencing where I am.”

Looking back on her time as a Semester at Sea student, Abby says her best advice for current students is to let go of regret.

“When you’re in port, decide what you’re going to do, own it, be flexible and open to change. Take in what you’re doing as much as you can and when you get back to the ship, never regret what you did just based on what you heard someone else did. Never say ‘I wish I did that,’ because they didn’t do what you did. They didn’t get to have your experiences and your experiences are going to form your memories of Semester at Sea. Your memories are going to be completely different from the next person’s. And theirs are going to be completely different than yours. So never regret not doing something. Embrace what you did do.”

If you’re interested in a career in the Foreign Service, be sure to visit careers.state.gov to find out more information.

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  • Life on Land

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