Alumni Spotlight: Alexandra Isaksen


Why did you choose this program?

I chose Sea|Mester initially on the fact that it would allow me hands-on experience with sailing.

I was actually looking into doing Semester at Sea first but knew I had to choose Sea|Mester because it would push me out of my comfort zone more. There was a distinct thrill of adventure their website projected. Something about the idea of sailing through an ocean lit a burning desire inside me that I couldn’t deny.

I loved their mantra:

“There are no passengers on Argo, only crew.”

I knew this program would provide a team-building environment, and that was an aspect that was inviting to me. That being said, I knew it would be a close-knit circle of teamwork too, given that there would be roughly thirty of us compared to the four hundred some that would have been on Semester at Sea. I love human connection and with Sea|Mester having such a small crew; I knew there would be higher potential to make deep, meaningful connections with people.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Prior to the start of the program, Sea|Mester was amazing when it came to be helpful and supportive. My mom probably called their office three times a day prior to my departure with a zillion and one questions and Kelly was always patient, providing my mum with a sense of peace.

Sea|Mester was extremely organized, which helped things run smoothly. They had excursions planned out in every country we went to, which was really nice, and then we had the opportunity for “free time” as well. For example, when we were in Morocco, they had camel rides set up for us on the beach of Essaouira but we still had time to roam free in the medinas. When we were in Rome, they had a tour of the Coliseum set up for us, but some of the students took it upon themselves to organize a tour of the Vatican.

For the most part, the majority of us didn’t do too much planning and organizing ourselves, but rather we explored the towns and cities we were in taking advantage of opportunities as they came to us. Sea|Mester had all the big excursions planned for us.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

You have to go into this program knowing you are going to be out of your comfort zone a lot!

Going into this experience with an open mind is huge, along with patience. Keep in mind that you will be living with about 29 others for 90 days in 112 feet of space. Try to maintain a conscious mindset of patience and acknowledgment that everyone came from different backgrounds and may have different beliefs than your own. Besides that, definitely bring a winter hat! I ended up buying one in Barcelona.

I would recommend bringing a small speaker as well. I was thankful I brought mine! I brought it with on hikes which helped lift our spirits on the hikes that were particularly more difficult. I also used it to help keep my watch team awake when we were covering shifts such as the 12 pm-4 am.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Go, go, go! There is little time for rest. During passages that were only a few days compared to the Atlantic crossing, life was more hectic. Because we were constantly sailing from one country to the next and balancing four classes any amount of sleep we could fit in became extremely important to our health.

An average day was getting up with the sun and having breakfast. After every meal, we would give the boat some love. Depending on my job for the day, I’d take part in either cleaning the salon, scrubbing the deck, washing dishes, putting dishes away, sweeping, or cleaning the heads. We kept Argo very clean.

If we were docked, or at an anchorage, we would go on land for the rest of the day, sometimes coming back aboard for lunch and other times we were free to find a restaurant onshore. After dinner and more cleaning, we usually had a class and then off to bed!

During the Atlantic crossing life was much more simple. There was more routine and structure, which was much needed after roughly 60 days of constant travel. During the crossing, every day was similar. Our watch teams took turns with different shifts every night. We would be responsible for helming, engine/boat safety checks, and bow watches from either 8 pm-12 pm, 12 pm-4 am, or 4 am-8 am. Most of us, if we didn’t have a watch, would sleep until lunch.

After lunch, we had two classes, showered and then had some free time to either nap or work on homework if we were not a chef that day. Dinner, clean up, and then bedtime before night watches started again!

The stars out in the middle of the ocean were incredibly beautiful. I gained such a strong sense of peace during the Atlantic crossing. It was comforting knowing that everything I needed was right there. It was really nice to be disconnected for those three weeks. It was a simple way of living that was almost meditative.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I am such a picky eater. I thought I was going to starve because I don’t eat meat, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised at how good the food was.

The staff are the cooks for the first week or so, but then, as students, we take turns. All the meals are homemade and often times there is freshly baked bread as well! My biggest fear ended up not being an issue. I know a few of my crewmates struggled with homesickness. For a lot of us, this was the longest we had been away from home.

The staff, as well as other students, were extremely caring of those struggling with adapting to being away from home in such a foreign environment. My biggest struggle ended up being learning to live in an environment where there is no privacy. I love people, but I am definitely an introvert. I found it extremely important that I take time to myself every day to journal or have a few moments to myself since most of the trip involves constant interaction.

What was your favorite place?

One of my most favorite places we visited was an island in the Caribean-Netherlands called Saba.

Surrounding the island was a protected marine reserve. The scuba diving was some of the best I've ever done! There were massive beautiful sea turtles and so many reef sharks! There was such an abundance of marine life I could have stayed underwater for hours.

We did a hike called Mt. Scenery, which was 2,855 feet high and 1064 steps. When we reached the top we could feel the clouds drifting through us! It was absolutely incredible! We hitchhiked our way back down to the shore. Sitting in the back of that truck, with my now life-long friends, completely exhausted from the hike, I felt so alive. It is moments like that where it is nearly impossible not to be present.

Smash, one of the staff members, picked us up on one of Argo’s dinghies. The waves were rough, which made for a fun ride! Before dinner that night, we all went swimming off the sailboat. I never got tired of watching people do flips off the bowsprit!

Living aboard Argo is truly a dream. I didn’t realize how truly amazing the entire experience was until I was able to settle back into normal reality and process everything.