Study and SAIL Abroad!

Last week, Lori posed the question: ‘to be or not to be…in summer school’.

Last summer, I ended exams early and had about five months of summer. Sounds like the dream situation for many, but after the first two weeks I was sick of the endless routine of eating, sleeping, and then doing nothing… without consequences. By the end of it I just wanted to go back to school already! I spent the majority of summer working a desk job and although I was gaining valuable work experience, I never got to spend time soaking up the sun or much of anything else either.

So to answer the question: to be or not to be in summer school? I chose the best of both worlds and decided to study abroad! In fact, it’s something that I have been considering since way before I even applied to university. Apart from immigrating to Canada several years ago and making a few trips to Disney World and Cuba once or twice, I have never left North American borders. Plus, going to theme parks and resorts hardly count as travelling and experiencing the diversity and culture of the countries firsthand.

U of T offers a summer abroad program sponsored by Woodsworth college. I received a tempting brochure in the mail earlier in the semester and could not make up my mind between all of the amazing countries where study abroad was offered! I looked throughout the site and imagined myself in each of the different countries. The great part is that the courses transfer for U of T credit. However, only certain courses are offered in each country, and when I realized that, it looked like my dreams of studying abroad this summer were far out of reach.

At that point, I received a letter in the mail that I was admitted to sail on the Summer 2011 voyage of Semester at Sea hosted by the University of Virginia. While I was wishing I was somewhere else, I applied to the program one day at work. I convinced myself to apply through wishful thinking, not thinking that I would actually get accepted!

If you’ve never heard of Semester at Sea, it is basically a campus on a big cruise ship called the MV Explorer. You take classes on the boat as it sails the oceans and makes stops in several different countries. I have always dreamed of doing something like this ever since the days of watching Breaker High on YTV when I was younger. If you have no idea what Breaker High is, they no longer air it so instead, think of Family channel’s Suite Life on Deck with Zack and Cody.

All blast-from-the-past pop culture references aside, this trip is actually for real. Students do have the opportunity to study and sail on a boat. In order to make it a reality, I had to somehow find a way to pay for tuition, board and lodging, flights, hotels, traveling and spending money! So I put in my deposit, applied for every scholarship I was eligible for and crossed my fingers. I was fortunate to receive the Diversity Abroad scholarship and will be meeting with the other scholars to discuss our encounters with diversity on the ship and abroad. The trip is mostly full of American students and with only a few Canadian students on board, I am proudly representing our campus aboard the MV Explorer.

The summer voyage is 66 days long and travels across the Atlantic ocean, making stops at the following port cities and countries:

  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Naples / Civitavecchia, Italy
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Piraeus (Athens), Greece
  • Varna, Bulgaria
  • Istanbul, Turkey,
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Boston, MA USA

I will be taking courses in Global Studies, Art History and Social Sciences. There are so many courses to choose from – psychology, to biology, writing, music, and business. Si ! Oui! there are even language courses in French and Spanish for beginners.

Even with the scholarship, I know it is super expensive and I will probably be spending years and years paying it off, but it is truly the experience of a lifetime. In fact, the thing that had me sold was the field trips and global campus experience. How many people are able to say that they’ve studied on a floating campus?

Several field trips are offered by the Institute for Shipboard Education and among them are authentic experiences with diversity that you would not easily be able to do on your own. For example, they offer opportunities to have service visits in orphanages, community projects, dinner with an Italian family, and opportunities to experience culture firsthand.

So not only is it an opportunity to study abroad, but I will also be able to do service abroad. Many people take trips to do service abroad and choose to do so in favour of study abroad or summer school. The fact that I will be able to combine study, service, sailing and travelling all in one is the perfect combination for what I was looking to do this summer. The experiences I will have in all eight countries are valuable life lessons in themselves.

Studying abroad takes a lot of advanced planning, sacrifices and commitment, but I really think that in the end it is all worth it. So if it is something that you are looking into doing, I would research everything possible and plan ahead. Semester at Sea is not sponsored officially by U of T but it is still possible to get credit. At times, I felt like this trip would never happen for me but I stayed positive, looked into all possibilities and never gave up. This trip sprung up pretty late on me and it would not have been possible without the scholarship I received. Talk to your registrar if you are interested in studying abroad and they will definitely help point you in the right direction. You can also find out more about study abroad from the Centre for International Experience. As for me… now I’m just ready to plan, end exams, pack my bags, and get on that boat. I’m going to take advantage of every moment!

- Danielle

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