There’s no WiFi, no access to social media, and no cell service. Nothing but water for 11 days straight. This is the reality that Semester at Sea students faced as the embarked from Honolulu, Hawaii for the long haul across the Pacific Ocean to Yokohama, Japan.
To many students, the idea seemed daunting. It would be over a week until they saw dry land or were able to set foot somewhere other than the MV World Odyssey, the German-based cruise liner that is taking them around the world. Most were anticipating that time would go by painfully slowly.
“I literally excepted to be bored stiff,” student Callie McCall said. “I had no idea what I was going to do stuck on a ship for 11 days.”
But as the days went on, McCall found that she almost always had something to do. Classes are held on the ship every day while at sea, with no weekends. There is an occasional “study day”, and one was held mid-way through the Pacific crossing. Aside from that exception, however, students spent each day going in and out of classes.
“I thought it would be taxing to have so many days of classes in a row,” McCall said. “But really, it’s helped to keep me busy.”
She also noted that “class days” are not the same as they would be at a typical university. In between classes, students can be found hanging out by the ship’s ninth-deck pool instead of sitting in a library.
“I’ll go from laying out by the pool to sitting in class in ten minutes,” McCall said. “I carry sunscreen in my backpack.”
The pool is not the only place that students can seek entertainment on the long voyage. There is also a game room, a Ping-Pong table, a gym, yoga classes, clubs, and even “pub nights” where students can enjoy a selection of beer and wine.
“The pub nights give us a space to socialize through an organized event,” McCall said, “It’s different from going out at school because there’s less alcohol, so you actually socialize with people. It’s actual conversation.”
Other nighttime activities include large events that bring the entire shipboard community together. These events can range from movie screenings (the most recent of which was, ironically, Titanic), to lectures from faculty, to lip-sync competitions.
“It’s really cool to be able to come together as a community so often,” student Aly Dressler said.
What’s so unique about the community, Dressler added, is that it’s made up of everyone on board. Faculty and staff also live on the ship, and participate in the whole of ship life alongside students. Students may find themself eating a meal with a professor in one of the ship’s restaurants, sitting next to a faculty member’s child at a movie screening, or chatting with a Dean on the pool deck.
Because there is such a focus on community and personal interaction, most students haven’t even really missed their phones or social media.
“It’s really nice to unplug,” Dressler said. “I’m really enjoying it, actually. I feel like I’m able to talk with people more and have better conversations because we’re not all sitting there staring at our phones.”
But while adjusted to a Wifi-free life at sea, Dressler, McCall and others are aching with anticipation to once again see land. “I’m excited to get off the ship and into these countries,” Dressler said. “The actual adventure is about to begin.”
The journey from Hawaii to Japan is the longest consecutive time students will have to spend at sea. The voyage will move quickly to China, Vietnam, Burma, and the rest of the 11 total countries on the itinerary.