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In fall 2008, the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) announced an exciting newopportunity for financially
challenged students to participate in Semester at Sea (SAS), a shipboard education program. Students from USNH’s three residential campuses—PSU, UNH, and Keene State College—who are eligible to receive the Affordable College Effort (ACE) grant are eligible to participate in the Semester at Sea program. The ACE grant is applied to their semester at sea, and the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), the organization responsible for Semester at Sea, covers the rest of the cost.
Last fall, two ACE students embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Katy Swafford, a sophomore childhood studies major at PSU, was one of them.
It was a ten-day trip to Italy during Swafford’s senior year of high school that inspired her to seek out study abroad opportunities once she got to PSU. When she received a Semester at Sea flyer from the Global Education Office (GEO) in campus mail, Swafford says, “I had no idea that there was a study abroad program that allows students to travel around the world on a ship and experience 12 different countries—it looked too good to be true.”
Intrigued, Swafford paid a visit to the Global Education Office. “Everyone was extremely helpful,” she recalls. “Jess [Morel, associate director of GEO] took the time to work one on one with me and answer any questions I had. She was great. And if she didn’t have the answer she would contact someone who did and let me know.”
Swafford’s semester at sea was a team effort: Jess Morel and members of the Financial Aid Team, the Bursar’s Office, the Semester at Sea program, and USNH worked together to support Swafford during the application process and to ensure that all paperwork was completed. Swafford and her academic advisor, Professor of Education Robert Miller, worked together to select her classes, which included global studies and marine biology. Morel was Swafford’s campus advocate and primary contact throughout the entire semester at sea. “It was a delight to know that we could all help make this happen for Katy,” says Financial Aid Team Director Schlabach.
“I had never been on a ship before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” remembers Swafford of her first hours on board the MV Explorer, a 24,300-ton ship that is, in essence, a floating university, complete with classrooms with closed circuit television capabilities, an 8,000-volune library, a computer lab, a student union, and two dining rooms. It didn’t take long for her to acquire her sea legs and new friends on the ship. “Everyone was friendly and wanted to meet new people, too, so it was easy to make friends,” says Swafford.
The voyage included 11 ports of call around the globe. In Africa, Swafford went on safari with only an open jeep separating her from sleeping lions, advancing rhinos, and playful zebras. In Japan, she experienced the clean beauty of the land and the friendliness of the people. In Viet Nam, she visited a war museum and a school for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. “Although I learned about the culture of all of the ports, Vietnam was the first place where I felt like I truly understood and experienced the culture,” she says.
And while Swafford enjoyed her shipboard classes and cultural excursions at every port, she also made room for fun, like when she celebrated her birthday with a skydive in Hawaii. “My goal was to enjoy the trip as much as I could,” she says.
Swafford is grateful that she was able to take part in Semester at Sea, and is excited that the ACE grant and ISE scholarship is opening the opportunity to a greater number of students. “Studying abroad is the best thing that I have done so far and I think that everyone should have this opportunity,” she says. “This scholarship allows people to do this, not worry about the cost, and truly enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” – Barbra Alan