The ringing of alarm clocks on the morning of September 9, 2018, meant something different for each of the 440 students embarking on Semester at Sea‚Äôs 125th voyage. For some, it would be their first time attending college classes. Others would be leaving the country for the first time. And for most, it meant starting a new adventure, unlike anything he or she had done before.
The morning was filled with stomach butterflies, tears, and one too many photos taken by that mother that you wish had never bought a camera. But as students walked up the gangway and set their eyes on their new floating home, nerves turned to excitement and they were thrown into a whole new world. One that consisted of trying to remember over 100 names in a day and getting used to seeing your professor sitting next to you at the pool.
For Seby Bileci and Berit Elderton, second-generation SASers, the anxious feeling was suppressed by knowing they would be reliving their mothers‚Äô glory days over the course of the next three months. Bileci and Elderton‚Äôs mothers had both sailed together in 1990, back when Semester at Sea‚Äôs floating campus had metal bunk beds ‚Äî a far cry from the elegant MV World Odyssey with its gold detailing and red plush couches.
‚ÄúThe first thing I noticed was how colorful and cheery it all was,‚Äù Elderton said. ‚ÄúThe details on the ship, they are very classic and timeless. I especially like how I feel like I‚Äôm not on a cruise. It‚Äôs a constant experience from looking at old-time photos in the hallways to learning about ancient civilizations in my classes.‚Äù
Elderton had seen pictures of the ship but she explained that it was a much more surreal experience stepping on board and seeing the detail that is incorporated into everything on the MV World Odyssey. Bileci, on the other hand, noticed something different in his first few moments on the ship.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm a gap-year student so I didn‚Äôt entirely know what to expect having never been on a campus before, let alone a floating one,‚Äù Bileci said. ‚ÄúEveryone was like overly nice, but in a good way. Everyone was asking each other‚Äôs names and trying to get to know everything about you within the first five minutes of talking to you. Let me just say high school was not that friendly.‚Äù
Bileci decided to take a gap year because his older brother did one. Bileci‚Äôs face lit up as he explained how he signed up for one too many clubs at the activities fair because he couldn‚Äôt believe that a campus could offer so many different opportunities.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think they had this much to do when my mom attended 28 years ago,‚Äù Bileci said. ‚ÄúIn high school, you just went to class, maybe did a sport or a club or two and that was it. Here I am challenged by my courses and then I can do anything from sitting by the pool with a professor to doing a club I never expected to be a part of.‚Äù
Student Mujahed Aghbar knows all about the unexpected. Aghbar, who attends Methodist University but was born in Palestine, is part of the ten percent international population on the ship. He said that being able to travel and learn outside of this native country was an unattainable dream back in 2010.
‚ÄúIt just seemed like you couldn‚Äôt do such a thing,‚Äù Aghbar said. ‚ÄúJust a few years ago it was just a dream to be able to leave my country and actually get visas granted to me and now I am sailing around the world.‚Äù
Aghbar said he had positive first impressions of getting onboard and meeting his fellow classmates, but as his classes began and he met people intrigued by his unique background, he felt as though information was missing from both sides of the conversation. Aghbar admits that just as people are not familiar with his Palestinian background and the history between Palestine and Israel, he is unaware of other pieces of history which shape each of our individual stories.
‚ÄúIt is nice that people are actually intrigued about other people‚Äôs stories‚Ä¶ which is why I don‚Äôt mind all the questions I get,‚Äù Aghbar said. ‚ÄúBut there is a piece missing from the education of both sides of the conversation. I will tell people I am from Palestine and they immediately think Pakistan and I can see their face drop. I think Semester at Sea is the best program students, both from the United States and other countries, can do because it opens up the conversation.‚Äù
Aghbar is not the only student who is hopeful to continue these deep talks up on deck. Elderton and Bileci also mentioned the ease they feel about talking to new people each day at sea.
‚ÄúI have already loved how we don‚Äôt have phones. Everyone is willing to have conversations with everyone else at any point of the day. I guess that is partly due to the fact that we all live in close quarters but also the fact that we all came with the same excitement and willingness to have a new experience as both a group and individuals.‚Äù
This semester is not always going to be full of bright first impressions and smooth seas, but with endless oceans, daily sunsets, and new experiences behind each wave, there‚Äôs no doubt that the 125th voyage of Semester at Sea is going to be one that students won‚Äôt forget.