What is Life at Sea?

Courtney Smith 1000
Photo by Monica D. Church © 2014

Life at sea is simplistic. It is unique. It is beautiful.

During my semester abroad with Semester at Sea in Spring 2014, I got to experience life at sea for four months with a shipboard community like no other. My home became the MV Explorer, a ship turned into a floating University. When I stepped aboard the ship, I had no idea what sea life had in store for me, but let me tell you this: it is something I will never forget.

You might be wondering what is so special about spending days in the middle of the ocean on a ship only two-football fields in length, but here are some things that I especially loved about my time aboard the MV Explorer.

1. The Sunsets/Sunrises
You might be thinking to yourself, “but can’t we see sunsets and sunrises from land?” The answer to that is of course you can, but I can guarantee you one thing, sunsets at sea are on another level. The bright oranges quickly fade into a dull pink and as the dimming sunlight hits the ocean there is a reflection on the water that extends for miles. If you are lucky enough, you may even get to see the green flash, a phenomenon that you will most definitely only get to see in the most remote of areas. As you sit with the sound of ocean waves hitting the ship on both sides and the wind in your hair all while taking in the beautiful views, you will wish you never had to set foot on land again.

2. Maritime Traditions
Two words. Neptune Day. Neptune day is a long-standing tradition that occurs upon crossing the Equator for the first time. The crew who are dressed up for the occasion come banging pots and pans up and down each and every hallway to wake everyone up at the crack of dawn (they had a lot of fun with that as we all opened our door, angry to be disturbed). They then herd everyone up to the 7th deck where the pool is and where the ceremony commences. The ceremony is to take uninitiated “pollywogs,” or those who have yet to cross the equator via sea, and give them official status as “Shellbacks.” To become initiated, you must first have “fish guts” poured over your head. You then must jump into the pool and quickly swim over to kiss a slimy, gross fish that only two hundred fellow voyagers before you recently have kissed. Then you kneel before “King Neptune,” either the captain or a favorite professor for the current voyage, and kiss his ring before being dubbed a “Shellback.” I mean who wouldn’t want to take part in a crazy weird maritime tradition like Neptune Day?!

Courtney 1
Photo by Avery Segal

3. Sea Olympics
GO ADRIATIC SEA! Each hall on the ship was a separate team, named based on the different bodies of water around the world. Sea Olympics is the craziest, most competitive day aboard the Explorer. There are over 20 different events such as synchronized swimming, dodge ball, tug of war, tank, banner decorating contest, lip sync dance competition, and many more. The entire day you are representing your team by proudly wearing their color and competing to earn points. My team may have come in 5th (2nd to last), but we still stood up and yelled with pride when they announced our name because to the Adriatic Sea, FIVE IS FINE!

4. Rocking and Rolling
One question I get asked quite often is, “didn’t you get sea sick??” Well, to be honest, only once did I ever succumb to the rolling of the ocean. The other times, I found the waves to be quite enjoyable! Watching people try to eat dinner all while trying to hold their plates still and balance themselves turned out to be quite humorous. Numerous times we would hear the crashing of plates or the occasional yell as someone’s beverage would topple over onto their lap. Not only this, but as you would walk down the hall it was a constant battle to stay afoot. I couldn’t even count the number of bruises I had from having a bit of a run in with the walls… Watching professors struggle to stand upright and sway from one side of the room to the next while they lectured made class all the more interesting too I might add.

5. Being in the middle of the ocean
Being miles away in all directions from any source of land leads to reflection. Sitting on the deck looking out at the vast size of the ocean makes you realize how big and amazing our world truly is. Spending all those days at sea makes you realize what is really important in life. It sounds cheesy, but spend some time at sea reflecting and you will know exactly what I mean.

6. Disconnect from technology
This might have been THE best part about life at sea. I mean when was the last time you had a four-hour dinner with friends where not a single person had their phone on them? The disconnect from technology allowed the ship to become a tight-knit community and the friends you make at sea become your friends for life. People with whom you only spend four months with feel closer than those you have known for ages because you were able to really get to know them without the hindrance of technology.

7. Marine Life
I mean how often in class on a land university do you ever stop class to look out the windows at a pod of dolphins or a group of flying fish passing by?? That’s right, NONE! I will never forget looking out of my Marine Biology classroom and seeing a whale just as we were talking about them in class. How is that for learning on site!

8. The Ocean Itself
The ocean itself has somewhat of a mesmerizing element to it. Imagine doing homework on deck while listening to the waves crashing into the ship and looking out to see the bluest water you can ever imagine. Yeah, I didn’t get much homework done those days…

There are so many amazing things about Semester at Sea, but the unique aspect of living at Sea is something truly amazing and unique to the program. I hope no matter what you do in life that you one-day get the chance to at least spend some time away from land looking at the beauty that is the ocean.

To end, I will leave you all with one final thought brought to you by the one and only Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Courtney Smith 19393
Photo by Courtney Smith

Written by: Courtney Smith

Courtney is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Psychology. She is a Junior at Transylvania University, and she participated in a Semester at Sea Program.