A Semester at Sea with Justin Williamson

Have you ever thought that a semester at sea was right for you? Read all about Justin’s experience to find out!

Although studying abroad is not at the front of any student’s mind right now, it really should be! Planning your academic career around your study abroad experience is critical in making sure you graduate on time and taking the classes you need to. My good friend Justin is one of those people who definitely benefitted from looking ahead, packing in two semesters abroad during his time in college. One of them was Babson’s BRIC program, which I also participated in, and the other was the Semester at Sea program. Justin notes that his semester at sea was a unique and unforgettable experience that he hopes others will consider too. If you think you might be interested or want to know what the program is all about, this will be worth the read!


 

Justin grew up in Los Angeles, California and was heavily involved in the local Jewish community, which he credits to instilling in him a curiosity about the world and teaching him how to ask questions. Justin brought his passion for learning to Babson, where he attended business school. In high school, Justin focused on associating with a close circle of friends, however, at Babson things changed dramatically. Justin realized the value of forming relationships with people distinctly different from himself. Babson College is ranked by Forbes as the number one college for international students and is home to an international student population that makes up 26% of the undergraduate student body, making it the perfect place to meet people from across the globe. When Justin formed friendships with those from different backgrounds, his perspective on life and the world around him grew exponentially. 

Like myself, Justin went on Babson’s BRIC Program his junior year, which only expanded his mind further, as he lived and traveled to Russia, India, and China over the course of three months. Despite having lived in Israel for a summer and having traveled extensively with his family, Justin found that his experience on BRIC was different. On BRIC he was able to learn more in-depth about the cultures that surrounded him through embedded excursions and personal exploration. To him, the classroom was coming alive. From this experience, Justin knew that he wanted to continue to learn while he traveled. He valued the experience of learning about a topic and then going to experience it for himself, which inspired him to apply and participate in the Semester At Sea study abroad program his first semester senior year. Semester At Sea is a study abroad experience where a cohort of students from across the globe study and travel on a ship over the course of one semester. With some extra advanced placement credits from high school, Justin was able to squeeze this extra semester of study abroad into his college curriculum- and it was well worth it. 

While on Semester At Sea, Justin visited the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, and Costa Rica over the course of his semester. Although this might seem intimidating to many, Justin had no apprehensions about this next adventure and was excited to see what this new opportunity had in store for him. When reflecting on his experience, however, Justin highlighted the importance of taking the time to process all of the incredible experiences that he had during his travels. “You are having so many unique experiences that are so different from one another, if you don’t take the time to deconstruct what you did, you miss the opportunity to learn and grow” Justin mentions as a take away. “When on Semester At Sea, you have to take the time yourself to turn experiences into learning experiences” and, as a result, Justin kept a journal to document every day spent on and off the ship. 

Justin’s notes that his favorite part of this unique study abroad experience was living on the ship. Surrounded by water for days at a time and with no distractions, Justin highlights that you are able to forge deep and meaningful relationships with the people around you, whether it be with peers or professors. Through this, Justin was able to create strong friendships and global understandings.

A typical day at sea for Justin consisted of waking up, having breakfast, taking classes, eating lunch, and then attending more classes. In the evening, Justin had time to complete his assignments and hang out with friends before having dinner and then attending a speaker series that Semester At Sea sponsored nightly. The speaker’s topic ranged based on the upcoming country that the ship would be docking at. For example, Justin notes attending a talk on the history of the Panama Canal shortly before the ship traveled down the canal itself. On land, when the ship had docked, students took part in a field experience based on what they learned in the classroom. When they were not having a field experience, students were free to roam about the country and explore for themselves. Justin notes his trip to Ecuador being one of his favorites, as he stayed with his Semester At Sea friends at an Ecuadorian host family’s house, living like a true local. 

Overall, Justin’s Semester At Sea experience helped him to understand that people from other cultures have a distinct way of viewing the world and there is a reason for that, being in the way that they live, their political system, their culture- you name it. In experiencing the people and their respective country first hand, Justin was allowed to relate and connect with people in a new way. “The experience as a whole has made me want to experience the globe even more, making me eager to travel and work with people who are from different countries. There is no doubt that you grow more when you are around people different other than yourself” Justin says. 

What is some advice Justin would give to someone who is also interested in Semester At Sea?

Justin suggests that you ask yourself: are you willing to embrace the unknown? And what is your tolerance for uncertainty? There is so much out of a Semester At Sea student’s control that you have to be open minded and willing to challenge your perceptions and beliefs. Justin also mentions that if you prioritize experiential learning, Semester At Sea might be perfect for you. What Justin learned in terms of life skills and experience during this semester abroad is more than he could have ever achieved in the classroom. The most impactful statement Justin made during our conversation was the fact that “Semester At Sea is so unique because, despite such uncertainty and discomfort that can come with travel, you are able to take that step out of your comfort zone because you know you are only a few days away from returning to comfort back on the ship. That is what helps students learn and grow in ways they would have never imagined.” If you ask me, that is a deep dive worth taking. 

 

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