Two K-State students spend semester at sea


Visiting 15 countries and 17 cities across the world in just over 100 days might seem like an impossible feat to some. To two K-State students, however, it’s a daily reality as they spend their fall with the Semester at Sea program.

Carson O’Connor, senior in family studies and human services, and Elise Hosty, senior in social work, set sail out of Southampton, England on the MV Explorer in August. Along with the company of 575 other students, O’Connor and Hosty have been living and attending class on the ship for the last three months as they travel to different countries. The ship is also home to crew members, such as cabin stewards, cooks and security, as well as over 30 professors from different universities.

Of the nearly 75 classes offered on board, students must be enrolled in 12 credit hours, typically four classes. The classes all have a field lab component, which is much like an educational field trip in one of their ports of call. In addition, most instructors find other ways to work the voyage’s particular ports of call into the course work. Although both O’Connor and Hosty said they prefer on-board classes, those don’t come without their own unique difficulties.

“Teaching on the ship has its challenges,” said Julie Bunck, professor of political science for Semester at Sea and K-state alumni of ’82. “The schedule is erratic, constantly being interrupted with port stays, sometimes up to a week at a time.”

Bunck is currently on her second voyage with the program, teaching comparative politics and an international relations course.

We also deal routinely with seasickness and the constant changing of
our clocks as we travel across the ocean,” she said.Sometimes our internal clocks get very messed up. That’s another challenge.”

Despite the challenges, the Semester at Sea program provides students with the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of cultures and experiences. The students have class when they are at sea, but are free to explore as they wish when they get to ports. Thus far they have already sailed through Europe, Africa and South America, with ports of call ranging from St. Petersburg, Russia to Rio De Janeiro.

“South Africa was like nothing I’ve seen before,” O’Connor said. “When we pulled into port, the first view was of majestic Table Mountain, steely grey against the rich blue sky. It was incredible. The city of Cape Town had a very California-meets-New Orleans feel. There was so much to do there.”

With activities like shark diving, hiking and horseback riding, Cape Town was designated a favorite destination by both O’Connor and Hosty.

“Together with all the wildlife, breathtaking mountains, amazing ocean views and hospitable people, it was the most magical place,” Hosty said.

The ship is now on the way to Havana, Cuba, its last stop for the semester. Americans are usually unable to travel there, but because the students have educational visas they have been granted access to the country. Hosty said everyone is excited to see what the country has to offer to their already amazing voyage.

“The fact that we get to visit a historical and controversial country is a privilege and an opportunity that I am so excited for,” O’Connor said.

As the semester comes to a close, both Hosty and O’Connor acknowledged that their semester at sea has changed them for the better.

“When you don’t have Internet constantly, you realize how much time you waste mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed when you could be out doing something much more enjoyable,” O’Connor said. “That’s a mindset I hope to keep when I return to Kansas.”

In reflection of her voyage, Hosty said she is proud of herself for her personal growth that occurred at sea.

“Every day here, you are faced with new challenges that push you outside your comfort zone,” Hosty said. “I am so grateful for the amazing experiences I have gained in the past few months, from visiting a school in Ghana, sharing an evening with a Russian family and walking through a favela in Brazil. This was easily the greatest and most influential semester of my life, and it is something that I will take with me and be forever thankful for.”