Alumni Spotlight: Robin Allen


Dr. Robin Allen is a small animal veterinarian from St .Charles IL. She currently lives in Houston, Tx. She attended Northern Illinois University as an undergraduate student. She studied veterinary medicine at St. Matthew's University in the Cayman Islands and completed a year of medical and surgical training at the University of Illinois. Additionally, she has earned an M.B.A from Davenport University. She traveled on Semester at Sea in Fall 2002.

Why did you decide to go abroad with your provider?

My interest to travel to Asia was sparked by a course in World Religions. I learned so much about the Ganges River and Varanasi, Shinto shrines, and Buddhist temples that I wanted to see them for myself.

The idea of being able to take a course entitled world religious architecture really grabbed my attention because it was so rooted in the cultures we were going to be exposed to. My family wasn't one for taking trips to countries on the other side of the world. It was a big deal for me to even consider doing something like this.

I didn't want to live with a family abroad and wanted to have my own space / room. One day I saw a flyer outside of my art history class room and knew it was the right program for me. After I researched more about Semester at Sea, there was no way I was going on any other study program.

It gave me the opportunity to see multiple countries on multiple continents. I was able to travel to Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, and Cuba. By traveling on a ship and experiencing multiple countries in a short time you can really compare how people live and their cultures around the world. Besides... how cool is it to say you sailed around the world?

If you could do-over one thing, what would it be?

I wish that I would have been more prepared for what I was going to see and witness. I think my experience would have been more meaningful. The program sends you a list of books that are based in each country you are going to visit. I read a few but I wish I would have read at least one involving each country I was going to visit.

I read Catfish and Mandala prior to visiting Vietnam. It is a true story about a young man whose family immigrated to the United States during the post Vietnam War Era. He decided to travel back to Vietnam and explore the country on bike. There are great descriptions about all the sights and smells on his journey. In some ways it prepared me for what I was going to see there.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future students traveling with your program?

Make sure to try everything. Do EVERYTHING. You don't want to look back on your experience and say that you were too scared to journey on your own, you spent all day in your cabin, or you didn't want to spend the extra money to travel to the Great Wall of China. When will you have the opportunity to do these things again? When will you have the opportunity to do these things again while surrounded by a group of friends.

Don't spend the entire time sitting in your room while at sea. Sit on the deck and listen to the waves. Go on shore trips where you have the opportunity to meet students in those countries. Spend time eating lunch with your instructors. It makes the program more valuable if you fully participate and emerge yourself in the ship's community.

Did you run into a language barrier? Did you ever think you knew more/less of the language?

I thought that language was going to be a huge barrier in each country. Surprisingly there were many people in each country who spoke English. We didn't have a hard time getting around on our own or finding someone to chat with or give directions.

How has this experience impacted your future?

I think this experience impacts everyone differently. For me I was impacted the most by really getting a sense that a lot of the danger we believe is out there in the world is heavily impacted by the media.

I met people in each country that were just the same as people from home. I ate at restaurants that were just as great as the ones I had been to in Chicago. Hotels that we stayed at on field excursions were extravagant at times. I was also surprised by the number of expats living abroad that we would run into. It made me realize that we are really in a bubble in the United States.

After this trip, I lived abroad in the Caribbean for 3 years. I couldn't imagine living in only one country for the rest of my life. I have other friends from my semester that moved to England, Aruba, Netherlands, India, Mexico, etc. This trip really changes how you see the world and for many of us where we want to live and what we want to do.

Some really great charities have been created after semester at sea studies. An alum from my semester created The Cook Book Project to bring education about food and its role in health to people around the world.

Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits you noticed about your country.

There were people in India that were excited to see my friends and I because we had light hair and light eyes. They have never seen someone with these characteristics before.

My friends and I were stopped several times at the Taj Mahal by families wanted a picture with us. It happened in China as well. This experience demonstrated that people are watching you and you are a representation of the U.S. when you are traveling.

The locals were often surprised that you wanted to eat indigenous food and not Pizza Hut. By the way... McDonald's does not taste the same in South Africa or China. It's fun to take a peak at things like that.

What made this experience unique and special?

There are so many things that make this experience special. Sailing around the world on a ship is pretty incredible. I would wake up "early" before the other passengers every morning and go sit out on the deck. There's a peace and quiet about the ocean that you can't recreate. It is one of the things I miss the most.

I didn't feel that way at first of course. I was sea sick like many other students. We were nauseous for the first week or so but the seas were a little rough between Vancouver and Japan. Oh and CUBA!