Everyone is saying that 2020 is their worst year yet. For me, it has been the most monumental year of my life full of personal growth, new experiences, and friends that I will keep for a lifetime. Although my study abroad experience was cut in half due to COVID-19, I was still able to experience more than I could have imagined! As someone who had never left the country, I had no clue what to expect. From riding bullet trains in Japan to scuba diving in Mauritius, Semester at Sea provided me with memories I’ll always remember. Before my journey began, I knew that these experiences would be unreal, but I didn’t realize how deeply they would impact me. Learning about new cultures was the highlight of my experience because I was given an insight to everyday life that is so different from ours. There is no way to explain how study abroad changes you, except to say that once you return, you will catch yourself trying to bring it up in every. single. conversation. It is an amazing feeling to be more aware of the world around you, and although there is always more to learn, I can tell how these experiences have changed me for the better. Needless to say, even if I would have known how the semester would end, I would have still chosen to study abroad. The challenges only made me more grateful for the opportunity to see the world around us.
I chose Semester at Sea because I am an indecisive person. I knew I wanted to study abroad, but it was impossible to choose one location. Semester at Sea, also known as SAS, offered travel by cruise ship to 11 different countries in the span of 4 months. We would be in each country for 4-7 days and could do independent travel or programs through SAS. Because of the pandemic, our itinerary was changed drastically (in fact, we had a total of 12+ itinerary changes between countries being added and ports being cancelled). In the end, we went to Hawaii, Japan, Vietnam, Mauritius, and South Africa. There were blessings in disguise from the changes because we went from only having five days in Vietnam to having 15! It was such a beautiful country with lessons in environmental science, peace studies, and political science woven throughout everyday life, which were the topics that I was the most interested in exploring abroad. I was able to travel across the country from the Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang. I participated in a home stay where I connected with a local family and learned about their daily lives on the Mekong River. From seeing photos of their school to hearing their music and language to tasting traditional food, all of my senses were immersed in a new culture. It is an experience that I’ll never forget and an opportunity that I would never have outside of study abroad.
When we weren’t in country, we were on the ship taking classes and having community events. I was lucky enough to be a peer mentor for international students, and it was amazing being able share stories about our very different lives. Semester at Sea provided me with friends and memories around the world. I have changed as a student, friend, and global citizen in more ways than I can count. As I’m still processing my experience, I am ready to get back to exploring the world.
Audrey Lawson is majoring in Political Science and spent part of Spring 2020 studying abroad in multiple locations through Semester at Sea. Audrey had the following to say about studying abroad, “If you’re feeling uncomfortable, embrace it. That’s how you can tell that you’re growing.”
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