I'm a 4th-year student at the University of San Diego, studying marketing and finance.
For my study abroad experience, I decided to sign up for Semester at Sea, a program that lets students travel around the world on a cruise ship.
It's a very cross-cultural experience; there were students aboard the ship from four continents, and I traveled to 11 countries during my semester abroad.
Having sailed on the 126th voyage, Semester at Sea is something I recommend to people who are highly adventurous and interested in learning about multiple cultures.
Semester at Sea is the only study abroad program in the world that allows students to live on a cruise ship for four months while traveling to multiple countries.
This isn't your typical study abroad program. Instead of immersing yourself in a foreign campus for four months, Semester at Sea is its own "floating campus" that travels to different countries on a ship named the MV World Odyssey.
I will admit, the price point of $28,074 (it differs for every voyage and changes based on your cabin type) isn't the most affordable, but with the amount of scholarships and grants available to applicants, I ended up paying less for my semester abroad than for a semester at my home university, University of San Diego.
Semester at Sea is definitely not for the faint of heart. The intense traveling and crazy schedules can be exhausting, and it takes some time to get your sea legs.
The semester goes by incredibly quickly, and life is fast-paced on the ship. Continue scrolling below to see my four-month-long adventure at sea.
We embarked on January 4, 2019, in Mexico. I was especially excited because I was going on the voyage with my college roommate, but I was also nervous about living on a ship for four months with limited connections to the outside world.
We took buses from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico, to board the ship, since it had a bigger cruise terminal.
My cabin on the ship was an "inside double," which came with two beds, two closets, and a bathroom. Other rooming options include inside triples and the outside doubles/triples, which have windows.
The bed on the left was a convertible couch, and at the foot of the bed was also a mirror and desk area. My cabin also came with a small TV monitor and a mini-fridge, but I barely spent time in my room since it was so compact.
The classrooms on the ship doubled as recreational areas and restaurants. It was often hard to focus in class due to the constant swaying of the ship and lack of writing space, but we made it work.
It got pretty wild in this classroom when the waves were big. Chairs sometimes slid around and the furniture creaked.
The University of San Diego is a partner with Semester at Sea, so my classes counted for college credit back at home. That's not the case for every university, though — some students take a gap year to go on the voyage.
The Kaisersaal Union was the ship's biggest classroom and where Global Studies, a required class for all students covering the places we visited, took place. It was also where we met for special events and guest speakers.
Josephine Tsai.Some classes were held in the Four Seasons Restaurant, which served as a classroom as well as a space for "Fancy Dining," where students could eat gourmet, five-course meals on special occasions. Students and faculty had to pay additional fees to eat here.
Josephine celebrates her friend's birthday at the "Fancy Dining" restaurant on the ship.
Students ate most meals at the two other, on-board restaurants called the Berlin and the Lido. In these restaurants, breakfast, lunch, and dinner was served buffet-style every day at specific times.
At the beginning of the trip, voyagers are given the option to join a "ship family," which was a group of students "parented" by returning voyagers.
My ship parents both sailed on previous voyages of Semester at Sea and now return every couple of years with their two kids!
After our first week at sea, we reached Hawaii, where we stayed for just 16 hours.
I also got to visit Oahu's tallest waterfall, bike down Mount Tantalus, and watch the sunset on the beach.
After Hawaii, we spent two long and rocky weeks at sea before we reached Kobe, Japan. Between classes and traveling, I passed the time by playing games or watching downloaded movies, since the WiFi was terrible onboard.
We only had access to the internet to check academics and emails, so we got creative with our free time. Some of my favorites games were Mafia and the card game Spoons.
After spending four days in Shanghai, my friends and I flew to Hong Kong, where we stayed for a day (you also have the option to travel on the ship, which takes away two days of independent travel).
Since it was Chinese New Year, my friend and I decided to visit the Tian Tan Buddha — a popular New Year's tradition. It was super packed, but we made it.
One of the biggest traditions onboard the MV World Odyssey is the Sea Olympics, a friendly competition between the different cabin floors involving events like Tug-of-War, a pull-up competition, and a lip sync battle.
Josephine TsaiI also competed in a Sea Olympics event, the Backwards Spelling Bee. Incredibly, I actually won the spelling bee, helping my team, the Arabian Sea, bring home the Sea Olympics championship.
My winning word was "perfidiousness."
One of the highlights of my entire Semester at Sea voyage was getting to take a sunrise balloon trip in Bagan, Myanmar. I am so thankful for being able to experience something so breathtaking and peaceful.
While we were landing, a bunch of neighborhood kids below us ran to catch up to the balloons and it was so cute!
Semester at Sea invites students and diplomats from the countries we visit to come aboard and discuss their country with us.
I got to see the Taj Mahal, which was just as beautiful as it looks in pictures.
As we started sailing away from Asia to Africa, the entire ship celebrated Neptune Day, an old maritime tradition commemorating the crossing of the equator.
The tradition is supposed to be kept secret, and it's filled with plenty of mysterious rituals.
My semester abroad was full of new experiences. I never would have imagined I'd end up skydiving in Cape Town, South Africa!
While in South Africa, I got to hike up Table Mountain, visit Robben Island, and see a radically different side of Cape Town at the Langa township, which was my favorite experience — especially after learning more about apartheid on the ship.
To ease some of the stresses that come with our courses, Semester at Sea puts on a few events for the students, including a Cultural Night, a Student/Staff/Crew Talent Show, a Ship Auction, and movie nights.
I loved being able to see my favorite crew members doing something fun outside of their regular ship jobs, where they got to showcase their culture. The Ship Auction was also super fun because some wild things were being sold, including the opportunity to honk the ship horn for $350!.
As we sailed closer to the equator, the weather became increasingly hot, so by the time we docked in Ghana, it was sweltering — a very drastic change to the freezing temperatures from earlier in the voyage.
One of the coolest things I did in Ghana was visit the Canopy Walkway in Kakum National Park, home to many endangered species as well as these scary rope bridges.
We also learned a lot about the health of the oceans and sustainability while living on the ship.
Learning about environmental protection and sustainability has inspired me to do what I can for our earth.
Prior to docking in our last country before disembarkation, some of my friends came up with an amazing idea to shoot a video showing off our beautiful ship.
We managed to film the ship and the members of our voyage in one take.
The last big event that Semester at Sea put on for the students was the Alumni Ball, which celebrated the end of finals and the end of the voyage. The night started off with a gourmet, five-course meal and ended with a dance party on the top deck.
Josephine TsaiAt last, our voyage was slowly coming to a close. The morning of disembarkation day in Amsterdam was bittersweet — it was full of goodbyes but also exciting chatter about plans to meet up later.
My friends and I made sure to snap a picture with our favorite waiter Rod during our last meal. The amazing crew onboard was part of why leaving was so hard.
Once we disembarked the ship in Amsterdam, my friends and I met up one last time (with our families this time) for dinner before we finally parted ways.
Josephine TsaiAlthough I may not have fully experienced one culture to the max, I got to dabble in many different cultures, and it has given me a taste of what each country is like. Not only did going on Semester at Sea save me some money, but it also inspired me to return to these countries.
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