SMU: Accept Semester at Sea

Day is a junior majoring in English and psychology.

When people ask me what the most valuable lesson I learned from my study abroad experience was, the answer comes easily: fearlessness.

When I say fearlessness, I’m not talking about your generic Disney movie “follow your dreams” boldness. This brand of fearlessness is entirely different. It is the ability to live my life unafraid of failure.

Fearing failure isn’t always a conscious, nagging thing; most of the time it’s a tiny voice in the back of our minds whispering, “don’t take that class. You might fail, and ruin your GPA.” Or, “don’t apply for that internship. If you don’t get it, you’ll feel like a failure.” It’s insidious, and before I went abroad, I wasn’t even aware it was there.

That all changed thanks to Semester At Sea.

For 66 days, I lived on an old cruise ship that had been transformed into a bona fide floating university, complete with two cafeterias, a gym, lecture halls, a computer lab and more. The ship sailed around the Mediterranean, and stopped for between three and six days each in eight countries: Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Malta, France, Spain and Portugal.

While on the ship between ports, we took classes; my favorite (and most challenging) was Global Politics of Change. I learned about the Arab Spring and the Eurozone Crisis, all before entering into the countries I was learning about. For each class, we had a field lab in one of the countries. For Anthropology of Food, my 20-person class attended a tapas-making workshop in Barcelona, Spain.

When you’re literally dropped into a country with little more than a few weeks’ background learning on its people and culture, you have to learn fast. You have to pick up the basics of the language (I still know how to say “thank you” in Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese), the currency and the transportation system.

You have to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes. You learn not to fear failure, but rather to embrace it as a necessary and, often times, memorable first step to success. Believe me when I say that you’re more likely to remember the time that you got too close to the snake charmer in Marrakech, Morocco, and he wouldn’t remove his cobra from around your neck until you paid him the equivalent of $50 in Moroccan Dirhams, then you are to remember the carefully-planned and administration-approved day trip to the history museum in France. This program teaches students to be independent but cautious, aware but always learning.

Aria Cochran, a junior at SMU majoring in English, went on the Fall 2013 voyage. She told me, “by going to so many more places in an environment with more responsibility, I felt as though I was being challenged in a way that I could not have been otherwise.”

The beauty of Semester at Sea is that it really forces students to confront their preconceptions about the many different, wonderful cultures of the world and exposes them to the broad scope of experiences that people face all around the world.

Michelle Anderson, a junior Anthropology and Human Rights major, is living aboard the ship right now. She is on the “Around the World” voyage, and, when I asked her why she chose Semester at Sea, she said, “I have especially gained from tangibly seeing different human rights issues throughout Asia and Africa, which is helping me narrow down what areas I am truly passionate in. It’s a comparative experience I never would have gotten if I were abroad in just one place.”

Currently, Semester at Sea is not an “SMU-affiliated” study abroad program. Because of this, SMU financial aid cannot be applied to the program, and if an SMU student participates, they are limited to receiving only transfer credit for their courses. I urge SMU to accept this program as one of its sanctioned study abroad opportunities. It is hardly fair to refuse to allow it because of a few individuals’ behavior, the reason I was given when I requested to go, (I went anyway). If we were to follow that logic, SMU would have to give up Greek life, athletics and most social groups on campus.

SMU claims to produce “world changers.” Cochran, Anderson and I are just a few of many students who can attest to the fact that Semester at Sea encouraged us to become just that.

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