This past fall semester, two Cabrini College students took the voyage of their lives and traveled across the country on a refurbished cruise ship. Throughout the course of four months, the students visited 15 countries and 17 cities. Juniors Mario Marino and Madison Milano boarded the MV Explorer in August and traveled throughout Europe, Africa, and South America, returning to the United States in December.
“Semester at Sea is a study abroad program sponsored by the University of Virginia that takes place on a cruise ship turned college campus,” Milano said. ‘Throughout the entire semester we take classes on the ship and live on the ship and then when we stopped in each country we got two to five days per country to just be there and explore and learn and experience that country.”
“It is a living and learning community, where you get incredible access to your professors,” Marino said. “Further, the experienced professors relate the course material for each of their classes to the countries we are visiting.”
Although much of this journey was about experiencing the culture of each different city, the students still took classes and learned like every other college student. “We took classes every time we were on the ship, so we didn’t really have weekends. And they were really hands on, you’d be learning about a topic and then were able to actually see the things you were learning about,” Milano said. “Every class had an in-country field lab component, so one day in one country your entire class would go somewhere and learn more about a prevalent topic you were studying in class. For example, in my marine bio class we whale watched and visited a shark conservancy, in global ethics we toured the red light district in Hamburg, Germany.”
Life on the ship definitely took getting used to for everyone on the ship, but by the end of the journey, Milano said that all the students were used to their new lifestyle. There was no internet on the ship, only intranet, so emailing was the primary method of communication. The televisions only received a few channels, so knitting was a popular hobby. Weekends didn’t exist, because if the students were on the ship on a weekend, they had to take classes. “I think by the end, ship life is what people enjoyed the most, because that really can’t be replicated,” Milano said. “You can always go back to a country, but to get the same group of people together like that is something that will always be unique.”
“Ship life is both incredible and exhausting. The absence of phones and internet allow students to truly get to know each other. If you want to really get to know someone, spend 12 straight days with them on a ship crossing the atlantic ocean,” Marino said. When asked what took the most getting used to Marino commented on something that others probably wouldn’t think about in their daily lives. “I would say just doing all the things you usually do while the ship rocks gently, or sometimes not so gently. There’s nothing like trying to open a door but having to wait for the ship to rock in the other direction.”
Apart from ship life, Milano and Marino pointed out a few key countries that were their favorite. “South Africa was my favorite country. I’ve been wanting to go there for years so it was something that I was looking forward to for a while,” Milano said. “It’s a really beautiful country, it’s absolutely captivating.”
“My favorite country was South Africa because there was so much to see, do and learn in the Cape Town area. I went cage diving with great white sharks, toured the vineyards of the Western Cape, spent a day learning about the wildlife of South Africa, and a day volunteering in a township where we fed and weighed the children living there,” Marino said.
The students aboard the MV Explorer were in South Africa for five days, their longest amount of time on land. And although this country was beautiful, there were some not so beautiful parts about seeing this culture. “Historically it has a lot to offer too, apartheid is a very recent thing that the people there are still recovering from – the impacts of it was something that couldn’t be ignored,” Milano said. “The wealth disparity in South Africa was the worst I saw. We were docked in a place that had Mercedes and Lexus dealerships and then not 10 minutes down the road were townships where people didn’t have running water and plumbing.”
Out of all the countries visited, Milano was most intrigued by Cuba. The students visiting Cuba was not just a big deal for the people on the ship, but it became a national news story. American students on Semester at Sea haven’t been in Cuba since Spring of 2004. “Cuba was just incredible to be in, to actually walk around and go to a baseball game and talk to locals was quite an experience,” Milano said.
It’s not surprising that the people aboard the MV Explorer experienced a change within themselves while they were traveling. As the ship visited more and more countries, the students became more confident and were willing to reach more out of their comfort zone. “It was cool to watch people become more confident in themselves and go farther in each country – like literally travel farther – and do more. Becoming a traveler and not a tourist was a cool thing,” Milano said. “The people on that ship truly believe that they can change the world, and why shouldn’t they? But everybody was at least passionate about something – whether it be learning or traveling.”
Some of Milano’s own adventures included cage diving with sharks in South Africa, doing a three day camel trek in Morocco, watching the Russian ballet perform Swan Lake in Russia, going to a baseball game in Cuba, touring two hard cider distilleries in France, and touring the Guinness factory in Ireland.
“It also ignites a travel bug inside you that pushes you to keep learning and exploring,” Marino, who also went cage diving with Milano, said.
Cabrini puts an emphasis on their students having a global education, and without a doubt, that’s what Marino and Milano experienced on their journey. “I think studying abroad enhances your education. And more than with the classes you take. I think this was the most I learned in a four-month span than I ever have. And most of it was through experience,” Milano said. “I learned about multiple cultures and histories and I learned how to travel and how to communicate without speaking a native language. I learned about people. And that’s on top of the classes I was taking. It also teaches you how to be a more confident student and leader.”