Alumni Spotlight: Hannah Derwick


Hannah was born and raised in a small town in Western New York. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a Master of Public Health degree. She is currently working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Why did you choose this program?

I spent a lot of time researching different study abroad programs and decided on Sea|mester because it was such a unique program that offered aspects of a program that I was looking for like SCUBA diving and sailing.

I was a biochemistry major and knew that finding a program that I was passionate about that would also transfer to my college would be difficult, so I decided to work hard to finish my B.S. in 3 ½ years, so that I could choose any study abroad program I wanted to attend. That decision allowed me to really search far and wide to find a program that I really wanted to attend.

Sea|mester really is a top-notch program that provides so much value. I didn’t have much experience sailing, other than a two-week summer camp, but I knew that I wanted to further pursue sailing. I also loved traveling and wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive. Sea|mester really checked all the boxes.

It had a small group size (around 20 people), allowed me to learn how to sail and SCUBA dive. I also was interested in oceanography and marine biology, which were classes offered during the program.

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

The Sea|mester staff was very involved in helping me prepare for the trip.

Sea|mester works closely with a travel agent that helps schedule flights to and from the port of entry and departure. They give you a very in-depth packing list that includes everything that you will need. They were available to talk on the phone and answer any questions I had and were always very enthusiastic to answer questions. They will also provide you with contact information of past participants if you want to get a student’s perspective.

Once you are aboard the sailing vessel, almost all planning is taken care of by the program manager. The staff works really hard to provide a great itinerary for when you are at port and have great knowledge of must-sees during the shortstops in different cities. There is not a lot of free time during this program, usually about a day in total at each destination.

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

I would tell future students to really embrace life aboard a sailing vessel. Being at sea is a great time to get a break from the internet and just focus on the people you are with and to live in the moment. Being away from social media was really refreshing and eye-opening.

Also, we were able to have so much fun, even with typically mundane tasks. We liked to call chores/work, “type 2 fun,” which were things that are not ordinarily fun but can be made fun when you do it with a group of people and enjoy the simplicity of life on a sailboat. That made things like doing the dishes, scrubbing the hull, and organizing provisions an experience to remember. Some of my fondest memories were made while cleaning up after mealtime in the dishy pit singing sea shanties.

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

There are two types of days: (1) days at sea and (2) days at port. During days at sea, you will be part of a watch team. You essentially are 4 hours on watch, 8 hours off watch. The watch schedule is 8am-12pm, 12pm-2pm, 2pm-6-pm, 6pm-8pm, 8pm-12am, 12am-4am, 4am-8am. Lunch is at noon, classes are held after lunch, followed by deck showers, free time, and then dinner is at 6.

At port, the schedule varies, but the program manager will often have activities planned like hikes, tours, and volunteer opportunities during the day. Classes are usually at night during days at port. You also learn how to SCUBA dive when anchored.

Each day everyone has an assigned job. Some of the jobs include skipper (writing the trip log), chef, sous chef, freshies and salties (the dishwashers), headmaster (bathroom cleaner), bosun/deckies (clean the deck), breadmaker, and gopher (transfer meals from the galley to the deck).

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

Before I began my journey, I was pretty nervous about meeting all new people and how everyone would interact. I was also nervous that I would not be able to keep up physically because I was not as fit as the majority of the participants. However, you can do activities at your own pace and will be encouraged but not pressured by the group.

Group dynamics can sometimes be challenging, but by the end of the trip, we were a cohesive team that worked well together and encouraged each other. Some of the activities were challenging, but they were always rewarding and I always felt accomplished after I completed something that I hadn’t done before.

What was your favorite destination on your trip?

Before I began my Sea|mester journey, I thought that the Galapagos would be my favorite port of call. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing seeing all the wildlife and SCUBA diving in some of the coolest locations. However, stopping in a remote atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, was such a special place to visit.

The Atoll was remote, only accessible by boat, and peaceful. It was the last stop before Tahiti and was a great way to wrap up the trip. We visited a pearl farm and took our last dive there. I think the remoteness of the atoll and the absence of tourists really made me appreciate being on a sailboat, able to travel to remote destinations.