SEA Semester: Inspiration and the Adventure of a Lifetime Past Review

By (Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania) for

Sea Education Association: Colonization to Conservation in the Caribbean

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My experience with SEA was phenomenal. In retrospect, my sense of how this incredible planet operates and how I relate to the cultural and ecological world around me shifted and evolved dramatically during that semester, and the experience continues to inform the way I approach everything from personal relationships to the nightly news. It didn't change my career track--I'm still on the path to be an archaeologist--but it did give me a remarkable sense of how closely, and constructively, the "hard" and social sciences can work together and inform one another, and that will certainly guide my academic future.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

SEA's faculty is fantastic: deeply knowledgeable, excellent teachers, and obviously in love with what they do. They take their task very seriously and are always available to talk one-on-one about any questions or concerns, but they are also an incredibly fun lot.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Owing to the nature of the program and the tightly-knit community that it fosters, SEA is able to give its students a ton of support, academic and otherwise. Any issues my class raised were dealt with immediately, and the faculty regularly consulted with the class as a whole to make sure everyone's needs were being met and gauge room for improvement. I should add that this applied both to academics/research and to nautical science/sail training. My expectations were exceeded in every possible way. I was sprayed with seawater by a surfacing humpback whale in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean. That's not the type of thing you ever expect to experience in real life.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I hadn't had a roommate in college, so I was leery about SEA's (on-shore) family-style student living going into the program. It turned out to be a fantastic experience. There was plenty of privacy, but I hardly ever sought it out; we all bonded immediately and truly felt like family by the end of the shore component. I don't know of anyone that had a bad experience with their house-mates. On-shore, everyone had a shared bedroom in a two-story house, with upstairs and downstairs bathrooms (which stayed very clean). There was a large kitchen, dining area, and living space; we did family-style meals and rotated cooking and dish-washing duties. At sea, the situation was different, though the on-shore set up was a good segue into the close quarters of a ship. Surprisingly, things never felt cramped or claustrophobic; I think going into things knowing that you won't have much personal space made it a very easy transition, and between doing research and the watch schedule, nobody had a whole lot of time to need personal space. The bunks were surprisingly comfortable and roomy, though I never used my for more than a place to sleep and keep my clothes.

* Food:

Our steward was excellent and managed to crank out an enormous variety of exceptional food. Junior stewards (i/e students) helped craft menus once we had been under way for a bit, and despite a few adventurous decisions, that worked out rather well. The level of detail that went into planning was remarkable, and thanks to carefully-wrapped single leaves of lettuce and carefully-sealed eggs, we had fresh salad and delicious baked goods well over a month out from Key West. I eat meat, but there were quite a few vegetarians on board and they were very well accommodated.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The entire experience was a cultural immersion, especially for someone coming from a land-locked part of the country. Even before leaving Woods Hole, we were steeped in maritime tradition and culture, which was a blast. Visiting the whaling museum in New Bedford was a notable high-point, as was a weekend trip to Martha's Vineyard and a few rowdy nights dancing to big-band jazz at a pub down the road. In Samana, we spoke with members of the "Philadelphian" community, descendents of American free blacks who came to the Dominican Republic in the early 1800s. They still practice Baptist Christianity and speak a decidedly old-school type of American English. That was pretty cool. And the bay itself was a pretty neat place to poke around. In Port Antonio, we visited a community of Windward Maroons up in the Blue Mountains, and that was an awesome experience. We had learned a great deal about Maroon communities during the shore component, and it was pretty powerful to meet and speak with members of such a distinctive and tenacious culture. As an anthropology student, spending time with the Maroons was absolutely one of the high-points of the trip, highlighting as it did the deep cultural connection so many in the Caribbean still feel to Africa and the era of profound "globalization" that preceded our own.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Safety was a top priority, as you would expect in this type of environment. We did regular safety drills and everyone knew the emergency procedures like the back of their hand. Fortunately, we never had a real-life safety scare. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize over and over that I had absolute confidence in the captain, mates, and crew, and I would place my safety in their hands again in an instant.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? No matter who you are or what your background, if you have the slightest spirit of adventure or the meekest curiosity about the world around you, SEA will absolutely be one of the defining experiences of your life.