Semester at Sea connects onboard learning with in-country experiences

Part two of a four-part series on Semester at Sea and Colorado State University

In this four-part series, we invite you to explore the experience of Semester at Sea through the eyes of School of Education faculty member and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Jody Donovan, who served as dean of student life during the SAS spring 2017 voyage.

Part two explores life onboard the ship and the countries visited during the spring 2017 voyage. Missed part one? Find it here

As dean of student life on the spring 2017 Semester at Sea voyage, Jody Donovan, assistant vice president for student affairs at Colorado State University, worked to educate and support nearly 600 students from institutions all over the world. Donovan was part of the onboard “staculty,” a term coined by the previous semester’s administrative team.

Onboard: classes and student life

Meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The voyage runs 105 days, with days at sea and days in country split nearly evenly. Ports include cities on four continents; the spring 2017 voyage visited 10 countries.

While the ship is sailing between ports, the students are in class. Their course load (typically four or five classes) alternates between “A” days and “B” days. The faculty teach daily; in country, they may lead their field labs or experiences. At night, said Donovan, they’re grading coursework, preparing for the next day, and managing life at sea – which may include seasickness.

“There’s no downtime,” she shared. “For extroverts like me, the experience was energizing. For introverts, the lack of time or space to be alone was challenging.”

While students select their own course load, every student is required to take one core Global Studies course. The only course that each student attends daily while on board, Global Studies is designed to enhance the students’ SAS experience by analyzing and exploring themes of globalization through the lenses of travelers.

“The day after port, Global Studies began with students journaling about their in-country experiences,” said Donovan. “Then they met in small reflection groups that were facilitated by the staculty. Staculty asked probing questions; the groups discussed their experiences, and processed what they saw and how the experiences made them feel.”

In addition to classroom learning, student life included programs designed to support students on board.

A few of the administrative team members

The ship’s six Resident Directors – student affairs professionals from all over the world – managed the programs, which focused on the following areas:

  • Fitness and wellness
  • Spirituality and faith
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Leadership
  • Social

Donovan, who managed the six RDs, explained, “The Resident Directors were each responsible for managing a community, much like life in a residence hall – these are communities of voyagers.”

Ports and in-country experiences

The spring 2017 voyage began in San Diego, California, with staculty boarding early for orientation. Due to passport regulations and financial implications related to U.S. passport holders stopping in two U.S. ports in a row, students traveled by bus from San Diego to Ensenada, Mexico, where they boarded.


After seven days at sea, the ship docked for a 12-hour refueling break in Honolulu, Hawaii. This port was the only stop where every student was required to attend a field experience, such as visiting Pearl Harbor or completing an ocean lab, led by staculty members.

The remaining ports offered students the option of attending a field lab associated with their coursework, a SAS-sponsored field experience, or independent travel within the port country.


The ship sailed for 11 days to Japan, docking in Kobe. SAS voyagers visited cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.

After leaving Japan, the number of days at sea and days in-country were fairly balanced, alternating between four or five days each.


Docking in Shanghai, students were able to spend time in the port city. Some also visited other destinations, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and the Great Wall.


Students experienced the port city of Ho Chi Minh City, and visited cities such as Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Sapa. Some students left Vietnam altogether to visit cities in Cambodia.

Myanmar (Burma)

The ship docked in the port city of Yangon. Students explored the Schedagon Pagoda, traveled to Bagan to see ancient temples, participated in Elephant Conservation, and participated in meditation and reflection at a monastery.

Beautiful colors in India


Docked in Cochin port, students visited the Taj Mahal and the Ganges River. Some also traveled throughout the country, seeing how people live in one of the most populous nations in the world.


Due to unforeseen circumstances, the voyage had to skip its 12-hour refueling stop at Mauritius, an African island located in the Indian Ocean. Instead, Donovan said, the SAS voyagers had a “snow day,” with fun activities on the ship.

“The snow day solidified the tight community built throughout the voyage,” she said.

South Africa

While docked in Cape Town, social rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife boarded the ship for a short visit, meeting SAS voyagers and discussing the impact of SAS. Students went on safaris, saw penguin islands, explored townships, and learned about apartheid and the role Nelson Mandela played in history.


Docked in Tema Harbour, SAS voyagers were given the opportunity to immerse themselves in village life and tour the Cape Coast Castle and Slave Dungeon to learn about the 17th century slave trade.


Students experienced the rich culture of the busy port of Casablanca, and visited cities such as Rabat and Marrakech.


The voyage ended in Hamburg, Germany, where students and staculty disembarked and made their way home. Many voyagers elected to continue their international travels, some for several additional weeks and months, on their own.

Stay tuned for more of this series. To see Donovan’s SAS photos, visit the album on Flickr.

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.