To reach former Fresno State student Jay Yoder, you need to adjust for a nine hour time delay. Yoder currently resides in the Netherlands and was bit by a travel bug after an experience on a floating university.

Students sail the seas for a grade

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Heinz

To reach former Fresno State student Jay Yoder, you need to adjust for a nine hour time delay. Yoder currently resides in the Netherlands and was bit by a travel bug after an experience on a floating university.

Yoder heard about the Semester at Sea program while watching MTV’s Road Rules. After a few Internet searches and some encouragement he received in a business entrepreneurship class, he decided that life is too short and booked a voyage in the spring of 2010.

“I had two roommates in a room the size of a closet,” Yoder said.

Yoder paid the cheapest option on the ship, but admitted that it made no difference due to the experience that awaited him. During this journey, Yoder visited 10 countries with two full weeks in China and India.

The Semester at Sea program started back in 1963, and since its inception it has had four academic sponsors; its current one is the University of Virginia. This sponsorship allows for fully accredited classes that could land four to 15 credits on a student’s transcript depending on the journey chosen.

“College can be a transforming experience, but the experience at Semester at Sea is a mind blower,” said Michael Zoll, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at the Institute for Shipboard Education.

Each student has the choice of taking a full semester, summer semester or short-term semester on the ship. The full semester price tag peaks at more than $31,000 and the short-term program begins at $3,475. The full semester lasts 100 to 110 days and the short-term program visits seven countries in 26 days.

Zoll said that the hefty price tag shouldn’t scare students—more than 50 percent of those on the boat received financial aid last year. The Semester at Sea financial aid comes directly from its own budget and goes on top of any other state or federal aid.

“Don’t think just because you got $2,000 from your home school that you will get the same amount from us, you might be surprised,” Zoll said.

On average there are 280 schools represented on each voyage and Zoll had a lot to say about the 50 people that make up the Institute for Shipboard Education, which is the non-profit side of Semester at Sea.

“Most of us are here purely out of passion and the magic of this program is that it has all the right elements,” Zoll said.

One of the larger concerns is the safety of the students.

“We work with various risk assessment agencies to monitor what is going on around the world at all times,” Vice President of Communications, Marketing and Public Affairs Laura Heinz said.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council and the ASI Group are two risk assessment agencies that help administrators decide where to plan the next trip. Heinz says that while these agencies are important, the process begins internally by looking at the academic value of the region.

The fall 2011 itinerary includes 12 locations ranging from Cape Town, South Africa to Chennai, India. Music professor Laxmi Tewari, who is attending his third semester at sea, has had great experiences in India.

“I had my Indian singing ensemble class give a performance in Chennai,” Tewari said. “It was very well attended by the local people.”

Tewari said that 20 percent of the learning experience has to come from port locations and offers students a chance to interact with the culture they have been learning about. His students learn nine classical Indian compositions by the end of the semester.

Tewari went on to say that he really likes being able to rub shoulders with students 24 hours a day. Students have the opportunity to ask questions both inside and outside of class. When the ship is at sea, students have to attend class every day and when the ship is at port they get Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off.

Fresno State graduate Jay Yoder said that there negative aspects of being trapped on a ship with your professors.

“Say you were sick one day and didn’t want to go to class, the professors would see you eventually and realize if you were sick or not,” Yoder said.

On the positive side, Yoder said that going on the Semester at Sea trip helped him directly apply what he was learning and break through some stereotypes that he may have had growing up. Vietnam ended up being his favorite country on the trip.

“It’s dirty, it’s poor, it’s hot, but everyone is so happy and positive living in the poorest conditions,” Yoder said. “The people really made it for me.”

According to data from Semester at Sea graduates, 97 percent of students say that going on this program was their most significant college experience.

Yoder falls into the 42 percent of students that spend time living and studying in other countries after the semester ends.

“Semester at Sea definitely sparked off my addiction to travel.”