Your Semester at Sea Questions Answered

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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.

COMMENTS
  • August 22, 2011

    So interesting – I can’t wait to follow along on your adventure! It sounds like you’ll be working hard, but the experience sounds amazing.

  • August 22, 2011

    I sailed as a student on SAS in Spring 2007 and it absolutely changed my outlook on EVERYTHING . Have an amazing time! What I would give for to be out on the 7th deck of the MV Explorer right now…

    • August 22, 2011
      Kristin

      Amanda, that’s amazing! We had around 1,000 alumni on board the first night and several are sailing this week from Boston to Montreal for the forum, and it’s a sense of community I’ve never before experienced. Even though I’m a newbie, it feels sort of like being inducted into the most exclusive and awesome secret society =)

      • September 9, 2011

        I was a work study on the voyage last fall….killing me to read your story with the exact same itinerary and dates!! But, I’m lucky enough that I get hang around with my closest friends from the trip every single week. Had dinner with 7 of them last night! The community thing really does last. You’re in for a TREAT in Ghana…make sure to stop in at the duty free 🙂

    • September 22, 2014
      Tascha DeVoll

      I know this might be somewhat personal, but can anybody suggest how much spending money I should bring?

  • August 22, 2011
    McKenzie

    What an adventure! I am looking forward to reading about your experiences.

  • August 22, 2011
    Briel K.

    Sounds like SVV’s got it made! Let us know if all those sea sickness remedies you are trying actually worked! 🙂

    • August 22, 2011
      Kristin

      So far, the waters have been rocky and I have stayed unmedicated and fine! A few people were sick this morning, but my stomach is trying to stay strong =)

      Still, I have quite the stash for extreme circumstances!

  • August 22, 2011
    Ris

    This sounds like such an awesome opportunity! Are you going to be putting your other work on hold or will you be freelancing while you’re at sea?

    • August 22, 2011
      Kristin

      I have a few things due this week but honestly a) my role in the program is pretty demanding and b) there’s limited bandwidth on board (only 50 people out of 900 can be online at once) so I think it will be a challenge to keep up my blog, let alone try to do freelance assignments on the side, as most require hours of Internet research. I’d say the majority of my freelancing about the trip will be done once we’re back in the States and I have the time (and resources) to research angles and publications and collect my thoughts!

  • August 22, 2011

    Yay how exciting!!!!!!!!!!! Love the last pic.

  • August 22, 2011

    I’m so envious! Crossing my fingers I get to do this someday!

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      I hope you do, too! Fingers crossed for you!

  • August 23, 2011

    I’m definitely going to check this out some more. I could handle some time on the water. So look forward to reading your adventures. Tell SVV to at least use some sunscreen. You three look adorable as sailors.

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      I think you would be great working for the ship! I met a retired faculty from Cornell last night who is coordinating the lifelong learners on this voyage, and she said if she hadn’t been hired, she was going back to work for NPS for another season! Thought of you =)

  • August 23, 2011

    Bon voyage!! Hope you have an amazing time and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it.
    Also, don’t forget to look for the coffin makers when you get to Ghana, sounds crazy but personalized coffins are a huge industry in and around Accra, I saw a chicken and a Formula 1 racing car while I was there! :0)

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      Um, that is hysterical! Who would have know that Ghana is famous for personalized coffins? Certainly not me! Any other must-dos in or around Accra? That’s where we’ll be the majority of time.

  • August 23, 2011

    I know! I would never have guessed but I was lucky enough to have my own personal tour guide when I was there (an old friend from uni who was raised and still lives in Accra) and he told me all about it. I have photos of the chicken one on Facebook, it was crazy!

    Other than that I was there for work so didn’t get to spend a lot of time exploring but here are a couple of things we tried.
    In central Accra there is a nice expat bar called Monsoon which serves this incredible mixed drink made with Gin and ginger beer- Spark, try it, it’s amazing! There is also a restaurant which came highly recommended but we didn’t eat there so I can’t personally vouch for that!
    And if you’re up for a proper Accra bar experience away from the tourists and ex pats, head to Cels Bridge. It’s tiny, and tucked away in a back street but really friendly with great music.
    For authentic Ghanian food (best in Accra according to my friend!) try The Original Blue Gate Café -the home of the worlds best griiled tillapia (river perch) with chips,rice.acheke, banku or kenkey.
    And for souvenirs, check out the “Arts Centre” downtown. It’s not really an arts centre, but tons of stalls crammed together selling locally made jewellery, carvings, clothes etc. There is a lot of haggling and trying to pull you into various different stalls but it’s good fun and I got some lovely souvenirs there.

    Have fun!!!

  • August 23, 2011

    I’d love to know more about the “school” kids have on board. I am guessing that if, say, I were to work on the ship (not that I *clicked” that employment link or anything…) that someone (over 25, they say) would need to be in charge of kids while I worked and would also have to homeschool them to keep up w their studies at home. OR, is there a homeschool curriculum on the ship? I figured the Dependent Children Coordinator only did some supplementary lessons (fun stuff about ports of call) and/or there was a place (with puzzles, games?) for kids to hang out.

    Any 411 you have about an tweens on the ship would be much appreciated. Curious!

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      You got it! We have 24 “kids” on the ship (including tweens) so I will get chummy with them and have answers for you by the end of the voyage =)

  • August 23, 2011

    I suppose this is a legit reason to not run Chicago 😉 This looks like so much fun–can’t wait to read about it!

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      Want to run it with me next year? Or maybe Country Music Marathon in April? =)

  • August 23, 2011
    Lindy

    Echoing everyone who said they can’t wait to keep reading about your travels! Seeing your route mapped out makes me even more excited for you and SVV. (And make sure he doesn’t let his pecs get *too* big.) Bon voyage!

  • August 23, 2011

    Have a great four months. I did wonder which port city you’d be visiting in India and now I know. It’s going to be interesting to read up on your week in Chennai later. I actually worked there for two years.

    Oh, and I’m almost as excited as you are about Ghana. I do believe it’s virtually possible! :p

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      I think we’re primarily going to try to do Delhi and Jaipur if I have the time off in India…I’ve heard there’s not a whole lot to do in Chennai, and most of the SAS trips are overnight ones up north. What would your recommendations be for a first-timer with just four or five days?

      • August 24, 2011

        That’s a tough one considering you have just about 4-5 days but I’d ask you to stick to your Delhi and Jaipur plan as that covers some interesting stuff (historical, shopping, cuisine etc) for first timers.

  • August 23, 2011

    How exciting. I can’t wait to see photos when you return home 🙂 Happy travels to you.

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      *Hopefully* I’ll be posting throughout the next four months (maybe longer) so you don’t have to wait that long 😉

  • August 23, 2011

    Embarassingly enough, my only knowledge of Semester at Sea is from watching the season of MTV’s Road Rules when they were on board one of the ships. I can’t wait to following along with your adventures and get a more “dignified” take on the experience. 🙂

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      Not embarrassing–that seems to be how a vast majority of people I’ve spoken with know it, too! I vaguely remember that, but I think that was either before or after I watched the show!

  • August 23, 2011

    I would want to know how to get a leg up on the competition but then it wouldn’t be so much of a secret. As in, what are they looking for? How can I stand out from the competition?

    • August 23, 2011
      Kristin

      I’ll glean what insider tips I can these next four months 😉

  • August 23, 2011

    Awesome. I seriously am super excited to read about all your stops. I would also LOVE to see Marrakesh.

  • August 23, 2011

    Great info! Good luck and have fun

  • August 24, 2011

    Ella in her little hat KILLS me with cuteness. As usual. Good luck on your sea voyage – you don’t get seasickness, do you?? 🙂

    Sara

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Haha, nah, not at all! I have a stomach of steel…*cough, cough*

  • August 24, 2011

    Sounds like it’s going to be an absolutely amazing adventure and I can’t wait to hear more about it as you explore the world. Good luck and have fun!

  • August 24, 2011

    Can you post photos of your room and office at some point? I can’t even imagine what they look like, but I do bet they’re small! I don’t have any experience with Semester at Sea (or even cruises) so it’s hard to have a frame of reference. 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying it so far!

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes’m! I’m definitely going to do some “day at sea” posts where I break down exactly what we do all day and have some photo tours of the interior. All to come in the next month or so, this I promise!

  • August 24, 2011

    Hi, long time reader, long time caller. Um, a comment and a question. My comment is that I love that Ella looks like a parrot but is sad that she won’t be along for the ride. And my question is how did you get to be such a badass?

  • August 26, 2011
    Ella

    Miss y’all already… bet you’ve already forgotten about me!

    • September 9, 2011
      Kristin

      We could never forget our other third! It’s as if we’re each missing a vital limb or organ.

  • August 27, 2011

    I can’t wait to read about your trip. This is one of my Dad’s dreams — he’s a university professor and he really wants to do Semester at Sea once he retires so I’m going to send him this whole blog so he can follow along on your journey (even though you’ll be doing different work than him). And I’m sure that you’re missing Ella tons but she’s having fun, too!

    • September 9, 2011
      Kristin

      He totally should! The SEC is significantly under-represented. Currently, there’s me, a couple from Bama and a gal from UGA on the staff/faculty side–and that’s it!

  • August 28, 2011

    Oh, I am unspeakably excited to follow along on this journey! Bon voyage, travelers. 🙂

  • December 8, 2011
    Dionne Asamoah

    thats really nice.how does it work for students as well?how are students admitted?and it pleases me that you are excited to visit Ghana,my motherland.bon voyage!!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Ooh we all LOVED Ghana. It’s always one of the students’ favorite ports because the people are just so kind. (And the food was amazing!)

      I’m going to do a follow-up post next month with all the questions people have sent me regarding the program, so I’ll also touch on the application process. Stay tuned!

  • December 13, 2011

    Ok I’m sold. I’m applying! Really 😀

  • April 12, 2013
    nicole

    Hello, I found your blog when I did a search on “semester at sea”. Can you please make a post discussing how much it cost for your husband to go with you.

    Thanks,

    Nicole

  • April 26, 2013

    Hi Kristin!

    I was just awarded a scholarship to one of the coming SAS voyages (Fall 2013 or Spring 2014) and I am in extreme doubt regarding which I should chose? It’s a luxury problem, I know, but I feel like I really need some help regarding deciding this. These are the two travels, http://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/fall-2013/ and http://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/spring-2014/. Do you have any opinions regarding what voyage to chose?
    If you have any ideas or need further details, please send me an e-mail.
    Thank you so much for your time and help!
    Best regards, Åse(Norway).

  • April 26, 2013

    Hi Kristin!

    I was just awarded a scholarship to one of the coming SAS voyages (Fall 2013 or Spring 2014) and I am in extreme doubt regarding which I should chose? It’s a luxury problem, I know, but I feel like I really need some help regarding deciding this. These are the two travels, http://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/fall-2013/ and http://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/spring-2014/. Do you have any opinions regarding what voyage to chose?
    If you have any ideas or need further details, please send me an e-mail.
    Thank you so much for your time and help!
    Best regards, Åse(Norway).

  • February 23, 2014
    Kellie

    My fiancé and I will be married next fall and are thinking about doing a Semester at Sea trip before we graduate! Do you know if married couples can go on Semester at Sea together and be in the same room? We think it will be more financially realistic if we go after we’re married rather than before. Let me know if you have any insight! Thanks, Kellie.

  • August 16, 2016
    julie cerrito

    hi: I am going to apply for fall of 2017 but I really need an idea of how much I will get paid to see if it will cover my us costs. Thank you. julie.

  • January 2, 2017
    Ada

    Thanks for writing about this side of the experience. I sailed as a student in the spring of 2012 and 2014. Of course, now I’m looking for a way back on board. It may be a misconception, but do you know if “plus-ones” have an option of taking an internal job on the ship instead of paying? I vaguely remember one RD having his fiancé aboard and she worked the book store position at the beginning and end of the semester. Not sure if she also paid. Curious to know if you have any insights on that.

    Cheers

    • January 2, 2017

      Hey Ada! If he/she can get a job, sure. There are a small handful of spouse jobs, and I believe Scott had applied for a job and didn’t get it, so we had to pay for his board.

      And unfortunately, ISE just moved to CSU in Colorado. We were just there visiting this month, and I believe they only hire employees within the university now, unfortunately =(

  • February 9, 2018
    Ashley

    Is this the only blog post you have on Semester at Sea? I am considering applying for a job as either a Resident Director or Assistant Field Director. I have my masters degree (MPA) and I have worked at a public university for 8 years (3 years as an admissions advisor). What job did you do and what experience did you have going into the application? Any information would be greatly helpful! Do you know of any other resources for prospective staff members?

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