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U.Va. Student Journalist Finds Writing and Reporting Opportunities At Sea

Lauren Jones (center) and fellow SAS friend Grace (second from right) stayed with the Katayama family in Tokyo.

University of Virginia rising 4th year student Lauren Jones recently disembarked the Spring 2014 Semester at Sea voyage. Jones, an English and economics major from Warrensburg, MO, writes for the media relations department of U.Va. and has also interned with Charlottesville paper, the C-VILLE Weekly. On board the MV Explorer, Jones took full advantage of any writing and media relations opportunities she could find, working with the shipboard communications staff and reporting to her home campus throughout the voyage. We caught up with Lauren near the end of her voyage to hear about her journalism-at-sea experience.

Why did you choose Semester at Sea for your study abroad experience? 

I had a good work friend at school who did Semester at Sea, loved it, and spent a good part of our summer at work convincing me to do it. I’d never been out of the country, and I honestly thought, when else in my life am I going to get an opportunity like this? But having all class credit and financial aid directly transfer from U.Va. (since SAS is academically sponsored by U.Va.) were the deciding factors.

How is Semester at Sea helping you improve your skills within your major?

I’m writing for U.Va., SAS, and also taking an English class for major credit, so I basically have a lot of things to write about as soon as I get back from each country. When we get back onboard, in my head it’s like ready, write about this and this, from this perspective to this audience. It involves self-discipline and a lot of thinking and processing on my part.

What optional SAS opportunities are you taking advantage of, both on and off the ship?

On the ship, I lead a Bible study, which has been awesome and I’ve really gotten to know girls on a different level. I participate in the Christian community services we have too, which are led by this great Resident Director named Ezra Plank, and I’m so thankful for the great faith community onboard.

I’m also in an extended family, so five girls, including me, and a Lifelong Learner meet every so often to talk about our lives, and our mom spoils us with pizza and tacos.

Do you think this is a good program for English majors, or students interested in writing? 

For me it turned out to be a great program to enhance my writing, because I got to work on the Semester at Sea communications team! My boss there has given me tons of freedom to pitch and write stories, and I’ve also gotten to edit others’ work, which is my favorite part of the writing process. I’ve also produced videos, which I really enjoyed, and I’ve gotten to help out with a lot of media-related SAS deals that have basically affirmed my interest in working in some form of media outlet after I graduate.

Aside from that, yes it’s great for English majors, because SAS offers tons of English classes – fun ones, like travel writing and fiction writing, and even the literature class I’m taking has us reading travel novels like Robinson Crusoe and The Odyssey, so it’s all interesting and useful.

Lauren Jones and fellow SAS students took an early morning cruise through the Mekong Delta’s floating markets in Vietnam.

What advice would you share with future English (or writing-focused) majors who may sail?

Apply to work on the shipboard communications team. Figure out how you can write about this experience for your school (it’ll get you working on a deadline). Keep a journal, or a blog or whatever, and update it religiously. Take advantage of the English classes (SAS offers a lot). And just do it, because if you’re a writer, experiences like this are going to inspire you and get your creative juices flowing more than like, ever in your collegiate paper-churning machine of a life.

Do you think this experience will help you get a job? If so, how?

HA that would be great! It’s definitely given me great experience, and I’ve been told that the SAS stories and the U.Va. blogs I’ve published have gotten decent reach, so we’ll see if anything comes of it. It’s been a great outlet to develop my narrative writing style, so I’m thankful for the opportunity.

What has been the most valuable experience you have had thus far?

I had a really good avocado smoothie in Vietnam. It changed the way I thought about many things in life, namely avocados.

I think the most valuable thing about SAS has been more quantitative for me. Traveling independently in a new place. Holding my own as a woman in countries where you’re considered a member of the lesser sex. Navigating an airport or train station when you can’t read the local language. It’s the things that make you independent, realizing that you don’t have to rely on a tour guide or a bunch of money or even other people to go and do what you want. So that’s a confidence-building thing, and just gaining more knowledge of the world is the best. I care so much more, about everything and everybody, because I have connections in all these countries now!

On the ship, working on the communications team is seriously the best part of my day. I can’t compliment them enough; they’re such smart and great people to work with, and I’ve learned a ton from them. At the same time, I always felt like we were working together, too. Even though I was a work-study student, the atmosphere wasn’t a hierarchal deal at all, but a collaborative one.

How has this voyage changed the lens through which you see the world?

The world is so small, and so not scary. I care more, about the news and what’s going on in the world. That Malaysian airline went missing right after we left Singapore. We were in India, right before their elections, so I bought an international TIME magazine and took the time to read about it. It’s also changed the way I think about poverty a lot, which I’ve talked about on my blog.

How have you been able to apply classroom knowledge gained through your classes on the ship to the countries that you have visited?

Islam and Religions of the World were super relevant, because I’d see shrines and temples and stuff that I previously had zero thoughts about, and then after we would see people worshipping at the sites in-country, it would be SUPER helpful to have learned the what and why behind it in class, and then be able to explain it to my friends. But in all the classes we relate it back to what we’re doing in-country one way or the other.

How has the shipboard community shaped your journey, both in knowledge and personal growth?

It‚Äôs been great to be in a place that isn‚Äôt stressful. Like, at U.Va. I‚Äôm bopping around from place to place all the time, but on the ship I‚Äôm… on the ship. It‚Äôs really hard, at least for me, to be stressed out here. So the environment is so facilitative towards, like, contentedness, and it‚Äôs given me tons of room to think. I‚Äôm trying new things, took Acting I, sang in the talent show, made a gag movie for the shipboard community film fest, and danced by myself with a bunch of African drummers up in front of the whole community! And I‚Äôm like, not that outgoing at U.Va. at all; I mostly just stick to writing. Stuff like that, where you‚Äôre in a small community, everybody already knows you, so it‚Äôs easy to break out and just have fun being ridiculous.

Within the community, I’ve met people with my sense of humor, and that’s half the battle in friend-making. So it’s been awesome to hang out with friends and see people you know everyday without having to make plans, and now I have connections from all across the country.

It’s also fun to sit with professors at lunch, get to know their kids, go to extra night lectures just for the sake of learning. Living with your professors is pretty cool, and you definitely get to see them more as people, and not as authority figures.

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