For the following interview, I asked my friend Lucie about her time abroad. This past December, she returned from her semester of traveling. She was enrolled in a program called Semester at Sea, which included visiting 15 different countries by boat. Here’s what she had to say:
C: Okay so my first question is… um…
L: This is scary. (laughter)
C: Did you enjoy your study abroad experience?
L: Yeah! Duh. Studying abroad in Paris Freshman year… I loved it, but I was definitely ready to go home. Semester at sea, I totally could go back and do it again.
C: What do you feel you gained from the time abroad?
L: So much cultural awareness and global perspective of the way different people live. I saw so many different ways of doing things. Experiencing their cultures and their food was awesome. I don’t know… I gained a lot and learned a lot.
C: What did you expect to experience before the semester started?
L: Oh my gosh, these are hard to answer. (laughter) I expected to learn a lot more about other cultures, but I didn’t realize how different it was going to be. All through Europe was pretty similar to the U.S., but going to Cuba, Brazil, and Morocco were completely different than what I pictured people living like there.
C: Do you think it would have been different if you would have stayed in one place for the whole semester?
L: Yeah, because being there just for a little bit each place, you only get a little taste and you only see one area or a certain group of people. It could be really different depending on if you went to a different restaurant or met a different family. And I did the immersion in Paris, which was different (than semester at sea) because I actually got to know the city. Where as just going for a couple days in each place, you kind of see the best parts of it, but you’re not really there long enough to know that much about it.
C: What had you heard from people who had studied abroad before?
L: Study abroad in general, I’ve heard nothing but good things. Everyone is very pro-wherever they went. I have never heard someone say, “Oh, I had so much fun in Paris, but I should have gone to Florence.” Everyone’s very happy about where they went. Especially Semester at sea, everyone said it changed their lives. No one that went on SAS would recommend anything else. I think just because it’s so different and you do make such a close-knit family on the ship, being only 600 people being stranded on a ship in the middle of the ocean together. You are forced to bond and love each other. Even the crew (workers on the ship) you get to know them. It’s just very different.
C: Do you think you picked Semester at Sea because of what you had heard from other people?
L: Yeah. Before college, I wanted to go to Australia. I had never even heard of Semester at Sea. Then, my first week at USD, I heard about the program. Originally, I thought it would be so cool to go to places I normally wouldn’t go to. I would go to Europe on a vacation, but I wouldn’t normally be like, “Hey, let’s go to Ghana or Senegal.” Those aren’t places I would think to go on my own.
C: What was different than your expectations?
L: A lot of people said that classes were easy and they won’t matter at all. They said you were just going to have fun and not worry at all, but I thought they were actually pretty hard. I spent a lot of time studying. But maybe that’s just me and my personality. What else… I mean it’s hard to know what to expect for Semester at Sea until you get there. You have no idea what the ship’s going to be like. You don’t really know what to pack. You don’t know what the schedule’s going to be like. Every journey is different. There’s new staff, new professors every single semester. Every year is a completely different experience. So no matter what people tell you about it, it’s really your own unique semester.
C: I think I already know the answer to this one, but do you think it was worth it?
L: Yes! I would go on Semester at Sea a million times again. It was sooo so worth it. Paris too. Even though I was ready to go by the end, I still had a great time there. I think studying abroad is so important. You learn a lot from it and grow up a lot.
C: What do you think made it worth it?
L: You gain such a greater sense of what’s out there. It’s not just the bubble of the University of San Diego or where you grew up. There’s so much more to see and learn from.
C: Do you think this experience allowed for personal growth?
L: Yeah. I think it’s just made me more open minded and accepting. Especially with our trips to Ghana and Senegal getting canceled, being able to turn things that didn’t go as planned into positives and moving on without complaining was one of the many things I gained from the experience.
This is basically an advertisement for Semester at Sea. So if any of you want another abroad experience, look into it. It’s for life-long learners too (you do not need to be a college student).