While I’m sure many of you have been on cruise holidays before, I don’t know a lot of people who have worked on educational ships. I’ve received a slew of Semester at Sea-related inquiries over the summer, and while we just set sail last night and began staff training today (and thus I am still in the dark about a lot of things), I figured I’d tackle some of the answers for questions I do know so far.
How are you going on a study abroad program if you’re not a student?
I’m an employee of the Institute for Shipboard Education, which is operated by the University of Virginia and has been in existence since 1963. All college kids regardless of university can apply, and those not of college age can choose to go as lifelong learners or apply for a staff or faculty position as I did. (The majority of jobs, however, require a master’s or PhD degree.)
Can you bring pets? How about kids?
Children, yes. Pets, no, sadly. There’s a school and other programs on board the ship for kids of staff and faculty.
Do you get paid for your work?
Yes, I do. I receive a salary plus a travel stipend to help cover costs to reach our points of embarkation and debarkation and travel when on land. Dependents (spouses and children) have to pay a nominal fee to sail, as well, so SVV isn’t going entirely for free, but I will tell you the monthly breakdown (which essentially covers room and board) is far less than he paid to live in San Francisco. If you’re interested in working Semester at Sea, you can apply for jobs here.
How far in advance does one have to apply?
Generally a year minimum. I applied in August 2010, got hired in April 2011 and set sail in August 2011. That said, one of my co-workers who has sailed a handful of times in the past, both as a student and as staff (and even got married on the ship in January!)—as seems common once you get inducted into the Semester at Sea family—said it took her four years to get hired back again simply because the competition is so tough and the ISE gets, literally, thousands and thousands of applications per voyage. So my biggest advice is be patient…and don’t give up.
Also, don’t apply for jobs for which you’re not qualified.
How often does the ship sail?
There are two full four-month voyages each spring and fall semester that circumnavigate the globe. There’s a summer voyage that goes along the Mediterranean and visits spots in Europe and North Africa for two months and a Maymester voyage that travels the Caribbean for two weeks each December. Then, there are the Enrichment Voyages each December/January and May that cater more toward adult passengers and travel varied routes, such as down the Amazon or from Ecuador out to the Galapagos Islands, You can learn more about upcoming voyages here.
What’s the schedule like when you’re out at sea?
While I’m not entirely sure, what I do know is that I’ll be in a room with my two other (awesome) field office co-workers for much of the day, seven days a week, during the periods we’re at sea. Generally, there are seven to 10 days between each port—though the time at sea is decreased when we’re in Asia, as many of the countries visited are much closer together—and students go to class every day, while staff do their work. So while SVV may be out at the pool working on his tan (or in the gym working on his pecs), I very much will be stationed in a floating office for much of the time working with tour operators and students who have booked ISE trips in each port through the program.
Do you have free time while you’re on land?
Sometimes—it all depends on the position you hold. The field office has to dispatch the ISE trips, so there are times when I’ll be working even when we’re not sailing. There are other times when SVV and I have elected to spend our free time (and money) going on Semester at Sea-sponsored trips (there are some really cool ones!). We’ll likely be doing some independent travel, as well, and staying with friends we have in the countries we’re visiting to keep costs lower.
Have you been everywhere on the itinerary?
No. I haven’t been to Ghana, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, Cambodia (an add-on trip), mainland China, Japan or Costa Rica.
Where are you most excited to visit?
I can’t wait to see Ghana, as it’s totally different from the typical travel experiences to which I am accustomed. I’m really looking forward to Japan, as one of my best friends works for the government in Tokyo and we’re going to stay with her during our time there. I’m super excited to explore the Marrakesh hotels and revisit the souks, loading up on textiles, spices and other goods—Marrakesh is one of my favorite cultural cities, full of riads and hammans, and last time I was there I was on a frugal budget (we paid $5 a night for cheap hotels!), so this time I want to do it right.
If you have additional questions about ship life and employment, leave them below in the comments and I’ll try to touch on them in a future post. Disclosure: Camels & Chocolate is in no way affiliated with Semester at Sea, Institute for Shipboard Education or the University of Virginia.