Semester at Sea: A Kid’s Perspective

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It seems one of the things that people are most intrigued about the Semester at Sea experience is just exactly what the kids do. No not the 500-something college “kids,” but rather the dependent children, the ones who tag along with their parents who are deans or professors for the semester. We had 24 kids—“the Sea Squirts,” we called them—who ranged in age from 3 to 16. They all have tutors, whether the non-working parent or a nanny who tags along for the ride and keeps up with the schooling they’re missing back home, and organized daily activities put on by the Dependent Children’s Coordinator.

Some of my closest pals on the ship were, in fact, Sea Squirts. So I caught up with three of them on the last day of our four-month voyage to get their opinion on what it’s like to sail the world as a kid. Meet Emma, age 11, from South Africa, and Perri and Parker, ages 11 and 9, sisters from Virginia. They’re here to tell you the candid details of life at sea as a Squirt.

What’s a typical day like for you three?

Emma: Well, I usually wake up at 12….no, just kidding! I have to wake up for breakfast, sadly, so I eat and then I check my e-mail, because I like to stay in touch with my friends back home, and then I do some schoolwork…sometimes.

Perri: I get up for breakfast at 8am, then I start school around 9. I break for lunch about 12, sometimes playing with Emma, and then back to school. At 2:30pm, we have our special kids’ activity, which can be different things. Sometimes we cook, sometimes people come in to talk to us. And then at 4pm, we have PE on the basketball court. So that can be soccer or basketball or Taekwondo even. Then, we have dinner around 6pm, and I usually go to bed at 9:30pm.

Emma: And we just hang out after dinner and have free time. We make up a lot of random games and skits. Because the talent show came up, me and Parker made up a few songs and we sang them on stage for everybody.

What’s your favorite thing about the ship?

Parker: Meeting new friends!

Do you think you’ll go back to your respective continents and be pen pals?

Parker: Yeah, we’ll write real letters because I don’t have e-mail yet!

Then, you can all go on Semester at Sea together when you’re in college!

Parker: I know!

Emma: And I want to come back and work on the ship as an LLC (the equivalent of an RA). And then after an LLC, I’m going to go as a teacher. And then I’ll come back as a crew member. I like all the crew members, they’re really nice!

Perri: The crew members are really nice. They always talk to you, and they pick up your dishes sometimes. So you don’t even have to carry your dishes up!

Is that your favorite part—not having to do your own dishes or make your own bed?

Parker: Yeah!

Emma: So, it’s funny, Parker knows all the students, and Perri knows all the kids, and they tell me that I know all the crew members.

I’d say you guys and Lily (who was MIA for the interview) are probably the most popular people on this ship. Everybody likes you!

Perri: You’re pretty liked, too.

I don’t know—I’m nowhere near as cute as you three.

Emma: I don’t really enjoy when people call us “the Sea Squirts!” We prefer “the dependent children” (said regally in her lilting South African accent). Also, I don’t like how you always have to wear shoes on board. And I’m always cold on the ship, so bring a jacket!

Parker: And after noon, it switches to military time, so you have to learn that.

Emma: And every single day—well, almost—you have to lose an hour. Let’s say I go to bed at 9pm, but it’s actually 10pm the next day. It’s really bad.

What’s your favorite country we’ve visited?

Perri: China! My favorite was Beijing. The people were really nice, and the Great Wall was really steep.

Emma: I had three that were the best. Morocco—that was wonderful. I loved it. We went to Fes, it was like an abandoned city; it was beautiful. And in India, I don’t know why, I just enjoyed it so much. And then I liked Costa Rica because we went zip-lining. I flew like Superman, and I flew on my back and looked down to the ground and it was just really cool.

Parker: South Africa! We went to Emma’s house.

Emma: Yeah, it was kind of like a homestay!

Parker: And they have whales in the front yard!

Emma: No, we don’t!

Parker: Well, kind of.

Emma: We live in the Western Cape, kind of close to Hout Bay and Hermanus, and we live two roads down from the beach and we have the mountain behind us so it’s very nice.

So what country had the best food?

Perri: Definitely China, because their dumplings are really good.

Emma: Japan, because I love sushi.

Parker: Morocco has really good mint tea.

Did you guys ever get stressed out when you were traveling to any of the countries?

Parker: Yeah.

Emma: I got really stressed out in Ghana. I don’t know why—I won’t tell you why because I don’t want you to go and not enjoy Ghana—but I think I felt bad for all of the people. And I was really worried about all the mosquitoes. Ghana was nice, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as other places.

Had you guys been to any of the places before?

Emma: I had been to several of the places because this is my third voyage. In spring 2010, I went just to Mauritius—we took a plane to Mauritius and then rode the ship back to South Africa. It was only five days at sea. My first full voyage was in 2004, and this is my second full voyage.

What’s different about this voyage from your past experiences?

Emma: The people are different, of course. There are more kids. There were only like five kids on our voyage before, and I hung out with this girl called Maya and we’re still really close. We are the only South Africans on this voyage, which is kind of weird. (Emma sailed with her father, her mother and her older sister.)

What advice would you give future kids coming on a Semester at Sea voyage?

Emma: Meet the crew members. They’re really nice. And you can’t be shy on this voyage really. All the kids want to know you. Just enjoy every minute of it, because now that it’s the end of the voyage, I’m like, “wow, that flew by really quickly.” Don’t start to change on the 111th day, change the first day.

Perri: You have to be prepared for change, also. It’s so different from at home because you have a small room, and when you go to meals, there are like 100 people there. And you have people over to have dinner with you every day. So it’s different, but it’s fun—I like it that way.

Parker: It’s awesome!

What would you tell your friends who are coming?

Perri: I would tell them to bring sweaters and also get to know a lot of people.


A huge thanks to my pals Perri, Parker and Emma for taking the time out of their very busy Sea Squirt—erm, dependent children—schedules to sit down and chat with me! I miss all my pint-sized ship pals.
  • March 14, 2012

    How fantastic! I love that the professors’ kids were on board – makes it feel more like a family environment. And it’s s interesting to hear about what they liked — they all seem like very fun kids. I want to know them, too!

    • March 14, 2012

      Is it bad that I related more to the 9 and 11 years old than I did many of the college kids? =)

  • March 14, 2012


    • March 14, 2012

      Hope your kids get to experience it =)

  • March 14, 2012

    What an invaluable experience!

    Also? Super jealous of Emma’s glasses.

    • March 14, 2012

      Oh, and she had a stylish wardrobe to match. Girlfriend was always dressed in the cutest dress-legging-boots combo!

  • March 14, 2012

    What an amazing opportunity for these kids. Well for everybody actually. Kind of like working with Jr Rangers.

    • March 15, 2012

      That sounds like such an awesome program, too. I wish I’d done some of these things when I was a kid! I was always too busy playing sports.

  • March 14, 2012

    How awesome is that, these kids get this experience. Best homed schooling ever? I think so…

    • March 14, 2012

      I’m pretty sure several of them have been to nearly as many countries as I have, and I’m more than twice their age!

  • March 15, 2012

    What a lovely group of mature, insightful children; they seem like such fun!

  • March 15, 2012

    The 3 girls are adorable! And so well-travelled, they will have some amazing stories to tell their friends back at home! And how cute was Parker who doesn’t have email yet so is planning on being a penpal!

    • March 15, 2012

      I actually found it hilarious that so many of the other 10 and 11 year olds DID have emails. And also Facebook accounts! Blows my mind.

  • March 15, 2012

    Nice photos 🙂 The girls looks so cute :))))

    • March 15, 2012

      The cutest! And the sweetest, friendliest personalities to match their cuteness.

  • March 16, 2012

    Love love love this post. The girls answers are so truthful yet simple. The military time thing would totally mess me up. Awesome perspective and an interesting read!

    • March 20, 2012

      It STILL messes me up. Factor in the time zone changing nearly daily, and I never knew what time of day it was and where I was supposed to be when!

  • April 17, 2012

    I JUST saw this, simply hilarious. I can totally hear Emma’s personality in your interview (as well as my daughters!) Gorgeous photos as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • April 17, 2012

      I miss Emma and your adorable daughters…well, all of your family! We’re going to be in C’ville this weekend to see the ship crew, and I’m sad you guys won’t be back yet! You’ll have to let me know next time you’re in Chattanooga visiting the family, and I will definitely come meet you all somewhere.

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