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. 

 

Finding Myself All Over Again, Written by Liza Mullett

Sometimes we must lose ourself to find the best parts of ourself all over again.

Growing into yourself as a young adult is one of the hardest things you can do. No one tells you what your passion is, what your hobbies are, who your best friend will be, or how to spend your time. And that is a good thing. No one knows you better than yourself, which is why it takes a long time and some deep reflection to uncover the less obvious truths about who we are.

One of the most challenging things about growing up is realizing that who we are and what we like don’t always align with who others are and what they like. Yet, at a phase where fitting in and belonging feel so important, it is tempting to ignore our truth and be guided by the rest. But, when we do so, it isn’t unusual to look in the mirror and think “this doesn’t feel right, but maybe this is what finding me looks like.”

It takes a lifetime to figure out who we truly are and every stage of life brings us closer. As my good friend Liza reveals, sometimes an undoing process is necessary to finding true contentment and is not impossible to uncover if you feel yourself slipping away. It just takes a bit of stillness and a two Euro tea.


I have a long list of schools I’ve attended- from elementary to college, I’ve had a tendency to jump around. I’ve always left out of my own volition and I haven’t used transferring schools as a way to run away from my problems. I’ve always made friends, I’ve always found a nook or cranny that becomes “My Spot”. But I felt like I was always searching for something more. While I was content, I wasn’t myself.

In the spring of 2019, I decided to transfer to Brown University from the University of Southern California. I had a blast my freshman year and had tons of friends- but from the moment I stepped foot on campus, I knew in my gut that it wasn’t my place. Whether or not this is too pretentious- it kind of is, I’m self-aware-, I felt too neurotic, too serious, too pensive for sunny Los Angeles. My mind was always elsewhere, dreaming of roaming the halls of old libraries and wearing turtlenecks, as opposed to walking down fraternity row and wearing game day apparel.

I had tried to turn my introverted self into an extrovert because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do in college. And it was, quite frankly, exhausting.

So I was off to Brown…not.

I was admitted to Brown for the spring semester and was to spend my fall term at Trinity College Dublin in a program for transfers. The privileged brat inside me had her alarm bells ringing: but I always wanted to study in Paris! Who does their abroad semester in sophomore year? Although my track was already a little different, being a transfer, I was a bit peeved at yet another roadblock thrown into my journey to Brown.

I was lucky enough to spend that summer in Berlin, which was more incredible than I can begin to explain, but that’s a story for another time. I had felt more free and more myself living alone in a foreign city, away from the social confines and expectations of a university. I only knew the fifteen or so kids in my program; it was too small to form a weird, high school-esque hierarchy and I made three best friends who I shared everything with. Yet somehow, when the fall came around, all I wanted was to be back on a college campus.

Dublin wasn’t perfect. I didn’t love my classes at Trinity and I didn’t have the Normal People love story with a pensive Irish boy I expected (I’m very idealistic). I kept falling ill and struggled to figure out the Irish healthcare system while barely being able to get out of bed. I don’t usually get homesick, but I missed my family. I was lonely. But my time in Dublin brought out a piece of myself I left for dead when I went to California in 2018.

I learned to love being by myself again. There was no expectation for what I was supposed to be doing or who I was supposed to be doing it with. I pride myself on being an independent person, but I still get caught up in the drama and games of college cliques and the culture of “popularity”- it’s hard not to. But in Dublin, none of that existed. No one knew me and I knew no one. I have never felt more distinctly myself than when I was anonymous and alone in a foreign city.

IMG_4579Let’s be clear- it wasn’t pure, off the rails, unencumbered joy. But I found contentment. I found simple routines, basic pleasures that were mine and mine alone, shared by me and me only. I had a handful of close and true friends; we were bound by the shared loneliness and confusion that comes with being thrust across the ocean when you hoped you would be elsewhere. My social life consisted of going to coffee shops and ordering a two Euro tea so I could sit there for five hours with my book; getting dinner with friends and being in bed by 10 pm on a Saturday night; exploring old churches and finishing off the day with a cheap cider.

There was no hypothetical social calendar I felt I had to adhere to. I began to unlearn a year of trying to keep up with people I had little to nothing in common with.

People always tell you that in college, you will finally find your people. You will finally find your niche and it will all be seamless and wonderful and you’ll realize how much better the place you’re in now is better than your high school. But honestly, that’s complete and utter bullshit. People suck, life is hard, no matter where you go or how old you are. You can still get sucked into caring about the social food-chain, even when you’re supposedly in a place where everyone is above that.

img_4577My fifteen-year-old self would hate to hear this, but I don’t think college will be the best four years of my life. I really don’t. I love learning, I love meeting new and diverse groups of people, I love challenging myself. But I have never been more Me than when I was 3,000 miles from home and free from the hand-holding, confining grasp of American university life. Even at Brown, my dream school, I still see remnants of the things I disliked the most at USC. I still catch myself, in moments, trying to adhere to what my high school self would think was acceptable. Which is beyond silly.

I’m going to try to relive this autumn in tandem with last year’s fall. Obviously, the realities of today will make things look a little different. But I will continue to invest in myself and the things that make me feel warm, proud, and truthful. There is safety and joy inside yourself- you just need to know how to look for it.

How Committing to “Yes” Changed My Life

How saying “yes” is sometimes the hardest part of starting the adventure of a lifetime.

When I was accepted to Babson there were so many things that intrigued me about the college, their Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) course, where students learned how to start their own business, the large undergraduate international population, where I would meet students from all over the world, and the beautiful campus right outside of Boston. However, it was Babson’s unique study abroad program – The BRIC Program – that excited me the most.

I remember when I was just a freshman at Babson prematurely going into the education abroad office in order to meet with the BRIC advisor. I was so eager to be accepted into the program and take part in a once of a lifetime study abroad experience, traveling with a cohort of 23 students to Russia, India, and China over the course of three months, the first semester of junior year.

However, when I got accepted into this highly competitive program, anxiousness quickly overtook excitement. In all honesty, I was in denial about the prospect of spending a semester abroad in three distinct foreign countries with people I knew very little about. When I spoke to friends and acquaintances about the adventure I was about to embark on, the experience felt very isolated from my own life. Looking at the past BRIC student’s photos, applying for my visa, and attending all of the pre-departure sessions did not make BRIC feel anymore real to me. It was not until I was buying travel necessities, a daunting amount of insect repellent, Advil, and mini travel shampoos, days before arriving at Babson, that it hit me that I was preparing for the completely unexpected and unknown.

I felt overwhelmed, wrestling with so many fears: was I going to get sick? Would I make friends with the cohort? Was I going to miss my family? Would I be able to adapt? I was scared of the future- the worst part being that I had done all of this to myself. I had wanted to go on BRIC, filled out the application, got into the program, and accepted the invitation. It was all on me.

Within days of the program’s start, I convinced myself that I did not want to study abroad anymore. Up until this point, I had taken many risks in my life, yet this time I thought I had pushed myself a little bit too far, questioning if I could take on the challenge. Although my mother assured me that I did not have to go if I did not want to, I knew that I could not let my own fears hold me back from an experience of a lifetime.

It is easy to say “yes” by merely showing up when you are supposed to, however immersing yourself fully in an experience is another story- it takes courage to be yourself.

Once our pre-departure sessions started, my anxieties had not dissipated. I remained closed off from the group, afraid of rejection and being vulnerable with the cohort, all of whom I had not known before. After holding back from volunteering to participate in a group bonding activity, which required sharing a personal story, I realized something had to give. In order to get the most out of the BRIC experience, I found that showing up was just half the battle, I had to dedicate action to words. To learn and grow you have to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and be engaged. As soon as I started to embrace opening up to the cohort, letting them get to know me better, I was able to connect on a deeper level both within the group and with the cultures that surrounded me in each location.

It is easy to look at the program and see how the rigorous course load in addition to the challenge of adapting to three vastly different locations could orient an individual towards growth. Yet, I have come to realize that committing to a challenge is oftentimes one of the most significant and overlooked steps within the entire process.

Sometimes life scares us, but it’s important to recognize these pivotal points in our life as opportunities to reflect on how far we have come and to continue to take leaps of faith, plunging ourselves into new experiences. And this all starts with the commitment to a simple, three letter word:

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“yes”.