Semester at Sea: Q&A with Katie Crawford

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Business communications major Katie Crawford, ’17, is spending her spring semester at sea, taking classes on a ship in the middle of the ocean, while traveling to 13 different countries. To learn more about her experience, check out the following Q&A.

Q: What made you decide to study abroad in the Semester at Sea program?
A: I knew we had a really good Study Abroad program at Westminster, but I was never really sure where exactly I wanted to go, especially because technically I was already studying abroad, as I come from the Netherlands.
Although I considered myself as someone who loves traveling, there was so much of the world I had never set foot on and honestly did not know much about. My travel experience was only in Europe, the U.S., and Canada, and I went to Egypt a couple of times. Asia and most of Africa was never on my near future agenda until I saw the itinerary for the spring 2016 Semester At Sea voyage, and I realized what a unique opportunity it would be. Some of my closest friends have done SAS too and hearing about their experiences made me excited to apply.

Q: What has been your favorite experience?
A: Ahhh that’s so hard to pinpoint! I’ll talk about a few moments that really stand out, but honestly these last few months have been life-changing in so many aspects. On the ship: stargazing from the deck. When you are on long stretches at sea, sometimes up to a week of not seeing land, you spend a lot of time watching the ocean with nothing in sight but the sea and the sky. At night, the stars and the moon can be very visible and bright, and it’s just really beautiful. Another favorite are the sunsets and sunrises, although waking up for sunrises is hard for me, as I am not a morning person at all. Also taco dinners, karaoke nights and talent shows. Some other moments that I won’t elaborate too much on or this Q&A would turn into a novel: a tour and helicopter flight at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, visiting Amber Fort and the Taj Mahal in India, volunteering at a school for trafficked children in Ghana, a hot-air balloon ride over the ancient temples of Bagan in Myanmar and sailing through the waters of Ha Long Bay. These are the really big “wow” moments that stand out, but there are a million and one moments that come to mind.

Q: How many countries did you visit this semester and which one was your favorite place?
A: As I did the spring voyage, our route started in San Diego (technically in Mexico, but that’s a more complicated story), on to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South-Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Ghana, Morocco, and it will end in the United Kingdom. So, all in all, I will have visited 13 countries. Choosing a favorite place is a really difficult question, because honestly I’ve learned to appreciate countries in so many different ways. I guess some of my ultimate favorite experiences were in Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Japan–beautiful places, kind hearts and big smiles all around.

Q: What advice would you give to students who want to study abroad?
A: Go for it!! Studying abroad, whether on a program like Semester At Sea or in one specific country, will change your life. It’s a scary and nerve-wracking decision, but it’s also incredibly exciting. You will learn a lot about yourself, a new environment (or multiple), you will make new friends, you will have great stories to share when you come back and you will be able to call another place your home. For me, that’s the MV World Odyssey, the ship I have been sailing on for the last few months. Leaving everything you know behind is really tough sometimes, but you’ve just got to do it in order to grow as a person. If you make the decision to study abroad, I would say look in to different programs that Westminster offers in particular. Have a look at their websites and schedule an appointment with the Study Abroad Director Dr. Jeremy Straughn and discuss what you’re looking in to. I’d also advise you to take a good look at the scholarships that Westminster offers for studying abroad, such as the Cranshaw and Piper Scholarships and make sure to apply before the deadline. These are amazing scholarships that are available to you and you should take advantage of them.

Q: What do you miss the most about Westminster while you’re away?
A: I miss my friends a lot, of course! I’ve definitely been suffering from some serious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when I see pictures of all the fun things going on at WestMo that I would usually be a part of, but that’s okay. I miss my sorority sisters in Kappa Alpha Theta and all that comes along with being a member. I miss my apartment and all the apartment shenanigans. All in all, I just really miss the small things, like walking across campus, or sitting on the hill with my best friend Mahima…I even miss the crazy squirrels that roam around campus. I’m just missing little things of Westminster, but mainly being surrounded by my favorite people. But luckily, a lot of my friends and even professors are keeping in contact, and I’m excited to return to good old Westminster!

Q: What do you think is the most important lesson you have learned from your semester at sea?
A: Very early on in the voyage my grandfather Chris passed away, and it was incredibly tough to come to terms with that. I found it so hard to accept that he would not be around to welcome me back and hear all about my adventures that he was so excited about. It was very unexpected and heartbreaking, but sticking with Semester at Sea was the best decision I could have made.The lesson I learned from losing my granddad while I was at sea was the importance of having a good support system–people that have your back; that are ready to celebrate achievements with you but also ready to let you ugly cry as much as you need. I definitely realized how fortunate I am to have such an amazing family, supporting sorority sisters and incredible friends, no matter how far the distance gets between us. They all assured me that continuing my voyage was the right decision and my granddad wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I learned that life doesn’t stop for anyone or anything, however cliché that sounds. You’ve got to enjoy the sunrises, the sunsets, the taco nights. There are so many things we can be thankful for, and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of how lucky you are to be you.

Q: Has your experience gone as you expected it would? Did anything surprise you?
A: So many things have surprised me, honestly. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting before I left; I can’t really remember. Sea-wise I was surprised about how having to earn your sea-legs is really a thing and so is seasickness! It’s also surprising how close you can feel in a short amount of time with other students sailing with you. You create a really strong bond over this experience. There have been many aspects that have surprised me while travelling. A lot of countries we visited have very dark histories and learning more about their background has been really interesting, and shocking, too. In some countries we witnessed extreme poverty, and that was really intense to see firsthand. It makes you feel very powerless and aware of your privilege. On the other hand, I was also pleasantly surprised on so many different occasions too. The friendliness of a lot of locals in different ports was incredible. People will go out of their way to show you their country and even introduce you to their families. They want to take pictures with you. They want you to try their food, and they love dressing you up in their traditional dress and so on. The people I met in the countries we visited really made this trip amazing and unique, and I have learned so much from them.

Q: Why would you recommend the Semester at Sea program?
A: First off, Semester At Sea isn’t for everyone. That’s the first thing I learned on the ship. There are people that left in Hawaii, our first stop, or people that dropped throughout. Living on the ship is a really big adjustment to most people’s lives, but you’ve got to keep in mind that it’s only around 110 days. The lifestyle of visiting so many different countries but for approximately five days each takes a toll as well, as it’s hard to reflect and re-energize yourself before reaching the next port sometimes. Between a few of the countries, there are only two days of classes. For example, in the month of February, I only had class 10 days combined, and the rest was non-stop travelling through countries. On the other hand, this is incredibly attractive as a study abroad program for people who want to see more of the world and get a taste of different cultures. I recommend this program because the classes offered on the ship are incredibly interesting and tie into the countries that we visit. We get hands-on experience on our “Field Labs” that are mandatory for classes we take. The classes are relatively small, discussion based and can be intensive, but very stimulating. I have learned a lot in and outside of the classrooms, and the shipboard community really is like a family. If traveling is a passion of yours or you want to broaden your horizon and circumnavigate the world, then you should definitely apply to Semester At Sea!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: My journey on SAS is coming to an end, and it’s so bittersweet. I know I have grown a lot as an individual on this trip, and I can honestly say that this has been the most amazing experience of my entire life. The short taste of countries is not enough for me, and I cannot wait to go out and explore so much more of the world! There are so many people to meet, places to visit and things to learn from. The funny thing is: the more things you learn and think you know, the more you realize you don’t actually know…It makes sense, I promise. However, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me after Semester At Sea. If anyone is thinking about applying or wants to ask me questions, please email I am happy to discuss any questions or comments you might have.

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