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Semester at Sea
Programs and Reviews
Their Roots: Semester at Sea began at Chapman University in the 60s, but the program was called "University of the Seven Seas." On that first voyage, 275 students set sail for 22 ports around the world aboard the MS Seven Seas to begin a tradition of shipboard education that continues to this day. The University of Virginia has been our academic sponsor since 2006 and we've had our current ship, the MV Explorer, since 2004. We've had many people take the lead over over the years - Bill Hughes, C.Y. Tung, Dr. M.A. Griffiths to name a few, although there have been many amazing people that have helped keep our program "afloat!"
Holly Tawil is the Assistant Director of Admissions for Semester at Sea - and loves the opportunities she has to communicate with students, universities, and the organization's recruiting team across the country (in addition to all of her opportunities to visit and work on the ship itself).
MEGAN: What has been your career path so far - how did you end up at Semester at Sea?
HOLLY: I started as a resident assistant and leader in my campus community at St. Edward's University in Austin, TX. When I graduated, I worked at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) as an admissions officer and loved it! I obtained a master's degree at Texas State University in Student Affairs in Higher Education. I knew I wanted to combine my passion for studying abroad with my passion for student affairs, so here I am!
MEGAN: Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
HOLLY: I studied abroad as a graduate student through Semester at Sea's Student Affairs at Sea. Most of the ship's 740 passengers were undergrads, which was a lot of fun. We read about what higher education looked like in other countries and then visited those places in person. It was the best semester I ever had (no offense, alma maters)!
I always wanted to study abroad, but I loved my leadership roles so much in college that I never wanted to leave and give those up. Finally, it was my last chance in college and I knew it was "now or never." My family does not travel so it was my first time out of the country, and guess what: I went to EIGHT countries!
MEGAN: What separates Semester at Sea from other study abroad program providers?
HOLLY: Semester at Sea is the ultimate in comparative global education. It can be hard to decide on one country to spend a semester in, so why not visit a lot? Not too many people can say they literally travelled around the globe. I also like the fact that we visit some of those "destination" locations, but we also go places that are not so main stream. Oftentimes, that ends up being a student's favorite place. Some of our students even decide to study in a particular country or express a newfound interest in the Foreign Service as a result of their voyage, which is very meaningful to us.
We have some really prominent people board our ship as voyagers or speakers. Some of those notable people include Archbishop and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu; former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro; Nelson Mandela; Mother Teresa, and the list goes on. Students become inspired to be servant leaders. They become aware of human rights issues in countries all over the world. They become global citizens.
The ship itself is also very magical. Is it cheesy to say "magical?" It offers services that a typically college campus would offer (health center, library, student life, recreation facilities, etc), but you are surrounded by the beautiful ocean. Look at what our Fall 2011 voyagers put together just a few days ago...it went viral!
MEGAN: What does the future hold for Semester at Sea. Any exciting new programs to share?
HOLLY: We have over 55,000 alums, so we are constantly listening to them in order to make our program strong. We are always welcoming really interesting guests on board that impact the program's future in very positive ways. We're always looking into new ports to visit. Check out our short term 2013 voyage--we'll be travelling all over northern Europe which isn't one of our regular itineraries. I'm really excited about Gdansk, Poland. There is so much in that city for history buffs. I think students will really learn a lot about WWII, the Cold War, and the Solidarity Movement/fall of Communism in Poland. (Uh oh, my nerd is showing!)
MEGAN: What about the future of the industry? How do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?
HOLLY:I think studying abroad is becoming more of "the standard" in a college experience. More universities are stressing the importance of international education and students are spreading the word about their experience. Studying abroad is also becoming more diverse in terms of who studies abroad and where they go. With all of these current trends, I think we're going to see international education more accessible and desirable.
MEGAN: How do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?
HOLLY: The future of U.S. study abroad is very bright, indeed! Data in the recently released 2011 Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education confirms that an increasing number of U.S. students are experiencing the benefits of international study. In fact, the 2009/10 academic year saw a 3.9% increase over 2008/09. Moreover, study abroad is becoming more accepted as a critical component of the well-rounded undergraduate experience. SAI is proud to be part of this movement towards a greater cosmopolitan emphasis in American higher education.
I wish I had considered Semester at Sea more seriously while I was an undergraduate in college (but as Holly said - its never too late!) Her parting words were particularly poignant: "Students, when you walk across the stage at graduation, don't think about all the things you wish you would've done. Think about all the things you accomplished. That said, just go for it!"