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University of Virginia Expands Study Abroad Opportunities; Becomes Home Port for Semester at Sea

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MV Explorer (photo courtesy Semester at Sea)

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Leigh Grossman, Vice Provost for International Affairs, discusses Semester at Sea.

Semester at Sea

International Studies Office


December 20, 2005 -- The University of Virginia will become the academic home for the highly regarded Semester at Sea Program beginning with the 2006 summer session as part of a new partnership between U.Va. and the Institute for Shipboard Education, according to a joint announcement made today.

Semester at Sea is a global comparative study-abroad experience that traces its origins to the earliest days of study abroad in 1963. Each year during both the fall and spring semesters, approximately 670 students from colleges and universities around the country take an around-the-world voyage on the floating campus, the MV Explorer. A shorter trip with slightly fewer students is held for the summer session. Almost 40,000 students from approximately 1,500 different institutions have studied and traveled to 60 countries through the program.

In announcing the University's academic sponsorship of Semester at Sea, University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III pointed to the University's Virginia 2020 Commission on International Initiatives that was created five years ago to establish the University as a global presence and to cultivate a global perspective in students, faculty and members of the University community. "The University has been working to encourage and coordinate international activities across the entire organization and to make an international dimension an essential part of our identity," Casteen said.

"This partnership will provide our students with a distinctive opportunity for expanded learning opportunities.  Students who participate in Semester at Sea will develop a deeper understanding of the diversities that distinguish various cultures around the world, as well as the common bonds that tie us together in an age of global interdependence. At a time when the University is working to expand its international activities, this program will be a wonderful complement to our existing international study programs." 

U.Va. will set the academic tone of the program by appointing an academic dean for each voyage who will, in turn, create the curriculum, work with the program to define the itinerary and recruit the approximately 28 faculty members from across the country. All participants will receive academic credit from U.Va., which can then be transferred to the students’ home institutions. Each voyage also includes is 35-member administrative staff consisting of a director of student life, eight student residence life professionals, a physician and medical assistants.

Les McCabe, president of the Institute for Shipboard Education, the nonprofit parent organization for Semester at Sea, said he was pleased about the future of the operation and the new opportunities that the partnership with U.Va. brings.

“We believe that the caliber and reputation of the University of Virginia will serve to strengthen our program further and help to ensure our long-term success at providing a unique international experience to our students,” McCabe said. “Later, when we learned about the University’s commitment to internationalization and global education through its Virginia 2020 program, we knew that we had an incredible opportunity to engage in a highly cooperative working relationship. The University of Virginia is a world-class institution and will bring a wealth of academic resources as well as a demonstrated commitment to international education.”

Courses on the voyages are offered in 20 different academic areas, ranging from anthropology to environmental science to theater arts, and course content is integrated with countries on the itinerary. Students choose from more than 70 courses (30 for the summer session), and classes meet daily while the ship is at sea. Every student takes Global Studies, an upper-level geography course, which highlights the complexity, dynamics, and interdependence of world systems.

A typical semester-long voyage is built on an itinerary that takes students to a range of countries where they experience non-Western cultures, developing economies and diverse political systems. Recent voyages have included Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, China and Japan.

At each port of call along the way, students take part in field activities directed by the faculty members, who base the activities on their own international experiences. The fieldwork relates to the on-board courses and counts for 20 percent of the hours needed for course credit.

During the 100-day fall and spring semesters, the minimum required academic load is 12 credit hours or four courses. For the 65-day summer program, the minimum course load is nine credit hours or three courses.

Leigh Grossman, the University’s vice provost for International Affairs, believes that this new partnership adds to the breadth and depth of the international programs already being offered to U.Va. students. She noted that while many University students are comfortable with the more traditional total immersion option, Semester at Sea offers a new aspect of study abroad that will interest students in what she calls a “survey of the world.”

“This offers students a safety net of 600 fellow students and 30 faculty members as they visit nine or 10 ports of call,” Grossman said. “They spend half their time on a ship learning and half their time in port seeing what they have learned about global politics, global psychology, global economy, global public health. To think that an individual is not changed after 100 days . . . I have talked to numerous students who have gone through this program, and I can tell you that the changes have been profound.”  

Over the years, Semester at Sea’s floating campus has become known for its groundbreaking trips. For instance, a stop in Vietnam in 1994 was the first large-scale visit by American college students since the Vietnam War. The program made similar visits to China, South Africa and the former Soviet Union. In spring of 1999, the group made what was believed to be the largest sanctioned visit to Cuba by a collection of American college students in nearly four decades.

In 1963, a group of California businessmen created the University of the Seven Seas, and after three voyages, Chapman College of California became the academic sponsor of the program, renaming it World Campus Afloat. In 1967, the Institute for Shipboard Education, a nonprofit corporation, was formed to assume administrative oversight, renamed the program Semester at Sea, and moved the academic sponsorship to the University of Colorado. From 1980 until this summer, the program’s academic partner has been the University of Pittsburgh.
Semester at Sea’s campus, the MV Explorer, is a 24,300-ton motor vessel built in 2002 by Blohm & Voss shipbuilders in Germany. It is billed as the fastest passenger ship afloat today with a cruising speed of 28 knots. Explorer features classrooms, an 11,000-volume library, a computer lab with wireless Internet access, a student union, a campus store, two dining rooms, a swimming pool, and a fitness center. The ship has a crew of 200.
The spring 2006 voyage, which sets sail on Jan. 19, will leave from Nassau, Bahamas, and will return to San Diego on April 28. The summer session leaves from Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 17 and returns to Seattle, Wash., on Aug. 21.
While both the spring and fall voyages in 2006 have been booked to capacity, spaces are available for the summer session. As a way to introduce the Semester at Sea program to University of Virginia students, Semester at Sea is offering a special scholarship that will cover 50 percent of the cost of the summer session to the first 100 U.Va. students who enroll.
The standard cost of Semester at Sea is $15,775 for a 100-day fall or spring voyage and $9,525 for a 65-day summer program. Financial assistance is available to students based on financial need. Students who are eligible for Pell Grants or Stafford Loans may use them for Semester at Sea, either by transferring the awards through their home school or by applying through Semester at Sea. In addition, students may apply for financial assistance from the Institute for Shipboard Education.

Over the next six months, the institute’s Les McCabe said he will move his 32-person operation to Charlottesville. He added that he believes the Institute will grow at the University of Virginia and foresees the opportunity to hire additional staff once the relocation has been completed. 

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Last Modified: Friday, 20-Jan-2006 08:01:29 EST
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