Semester at Sea, Emphasis on Sea


Semester at Sea Students excited to start the vogae.

Semester at Sea Students excited to start the vogae.


Permission to Come Aboard.

Being on a ship, Mark Twain observed, is like being in prison except with the chance of drowning.

For some, the sense of confinement is real. For me, I’m content.

It’s true that after six days at sea with nothing on the horizon but sea and air, many students are eager to for release.

This morning we docked in Hilo, Hawaii, for 12 hours and the excitement is palpable.  Everyone is on their cell phones. There is no practical Internet on board the M/V Explorer and cell service is expensive. So it’s only in port that participants can get to Facebook, Youtube, and post to Instagram and blogs.

Let me see if I can describe the Semester at Sea experience.


I'm up with the sun every morning.

I’m up with the sun every morning.


For me, the hours on the ship at sea have been pure joy. At least so far on the tranquil Pacific Ocean from San Diego to the Big Island of Hawaii. I spend as much of the daylight hours on the deck watching one endless horizon welcoming the next. In six days the horizons were uninterrupted by a single vessel or airplane, so huge is the expanse of water.

In the face of this majesty, it’s impossible to overestimate one’s significance.


This is the exterior deck on Level 6 that I like to be on.

This is the exterior deck on Level 6 that I like to be on.


About the only time I’m in the interior of the ship is for classes, evening programs, the occasional meal, and sleeping.  Otherwise I prefer to be outdoors. The interior of the ship is ferociously air conditioned.

Semester at Sea is certainly not a cruise. This is an academic community transferred to a platform that happens to float from one field experience to another. Most students are undergraduates, usually juniors, but there are gap year students here as well as those who have already satisfied their majors. For some this is their second or even third voyage.  Of the 630 traditional students, about 85 are international students. There are about 630 traditional students.

Most students take four classes. I’m trying to keep up with two. I find it overwhelming and I’m not even responsible for assignments and tests. I’m taking World Mythology and a course in Justice and Human Rights around the world. Both are typical of courses in that they are organized around the ports we visit and build in formal, professor-led field experiences at certain ports.


Double rainbow after a short and rare rainshower.

Double rainbow after a short and rare rainshower.


Many of my friends have asked me about seasickness.  It happens. Some students had a hard time with the rolling of the ship.  A big topic of conversation is managing the seasickness.  The ship dispenses free Dramamine or its equivalent. Lots of people swear by patches. Ginger is recommended.  Some people swear by these acupressure bracelets.  It’s not been a problem for me.  The rolling of the ship does make walking around the ship tricky, especially with trays.  Sitting in a classroom feeling the world sway is a new experience, as well.

No Passengers

There are no passengers on the M/V Explorer.  We are called participants (sometimes voyagers) and we are called on to participate. There is always something going on.  In addition to classes, meals, and life boat drills, there are countless activities organized by faculty, staff, or students.  It really is like any college campus with many clubs and activities.

For instance, I organized an improvisational writing group. We get together for 45 minutes every day we’re at sea to reclaim our love of creative writing.  The students seem to like it.  More on this soon.


The tour of the bridge, the nerve center of the ship, gives everyone a chance to be honorary captain.

The tour of the bridge, the nerve center of the ship, gives everyone a chance to be honorary captain.


A Days, B Days

At sea, the days of the week become quickly irrelevant.

There are A Days and B Days.  Those designations tell students what classes are scheduled for that day. Other services are available either on A Days or B Days.  If we’re not at sea, we’re in port. Port visits generally are for five days. Some students have field labs. Most people can do whatever they want. Many students register for experiences organized by Semester at Sea. But many students organize their own activities.

The critical thing is to get back to the ship on time.  On-ship time is drilled into everyone because it’s critical that the ship depart on time.  Real sanctions apply.  For every 15 minutes a participant is late, he or she is docked two hours for the next port.  That applies to faculty and staff as well as students. In other words, if I’m late to the ship by 30 minutes, I won’t be allowed to leave the ship on the next port for four hours.

Permission Granted

That’s enough for now. After we depart from Hawaii, we have another 11 days on the Pacific to Yokohama, Japan.

Look for another blog in which I’ll post some time-lapse videos I shot of life on the ship.


Our cabin is smaller than our bathroom at home but totally cozy. We don't spend much time here.

Our cabin is smaller than our bathroom at home but totally cozy. We don’t spend much time here.


Please know that I’m having the time of my life. This experience is as close to pure joy as I’ve had in years.

#HiloHawaii #MVExplorer #MarkTwain #SemesteratSea