Semester at Sea

Semester at Sea (SAS) is a study–abroad program founded in 1963, now managed by the Institute for Shipboard Education[1] in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. Colorado State University is the current academic sponsor for the program[1] while the program itself is run on a cruise ship. Throughout the history of the program, nearly 63,000 undergraduate students[2] from more than 1,500 colleges and universities have participated in Semester at Sea.

Institute for Shipboard Education
  • University of the Seven Seas
  • World Campus Afloat
Nonprofit organization
IndustryStudy Abroad Program
Fort Collins, Colorado
United States
Area served
Key people
Dr. Gary A. Ransdell - CEO

During the spring and fall semesters, the approximately 100- 110 day program circumnavigates the globe, with up to 600 undergraduates[3] traveling from North America heading either east across the Atlantic or west across the Pacific, visiting from 10 to 11 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and North America.[4] The program previously had voyages that would sail through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, but due to piracy concerns in the Gulf of Aden, voyages now typically travel around Africa.

For many years, ISE hosted a shorter 65-day Semester at Sea program in the summer that concentrated on one general region of the world. In May 2011, Semester at Sea introduced a new short-term or Maymester voyage with a curriculum focused on the UN Millennium Development Goals. These voyages lasted 26 days and offered students the opportunity to earn 4–5 transferable credits. However, following the Maymester 2012 voyage, Semester at Sea made the decision to cancel Short-Term voyages indefinitely due to low enrollment. Additionally, a two-week "Enrichment Voyage" program was previously held for continuing education participants during December and January. Itineraries for these voyages focused on Central America and South America, often transiting the Panama Canal or traveling up the Amazon River. ISE currently offers only fall and spring voyages.


Students attend classes while the ship is at sea in a variety of subjects and disciplines. These classes are typically humanities classes connecting with one or more of the countries on the itinerary. All students are required to take an interdisciplinary core course called Global Studies.[5] When the ship is in a port, no classes are held. Students are then able to travel on Semester at Sea-sponsored trips or independently within the country.[6] However, travel outside the country of port is strictly prohibited, resulting in dismissal from the program.

Although Colorado State University is the academic sponsor for the program, Semester at Sea is open to students from any university. Faculty members are drawn from colleges and universities throughout the United States and around the world, including Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Boston University, Bucknell University, Emerson College, Yale University, University of Pittsburgh, California Lutheran University, Chapman University, Bentley University, Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), Cornell University, Jacksonville University, University of Arizona, University of Michigan, National University of Singapore, University of Virginia, University of Colorado, University of Maine, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Connecticut, New York University and Columbia University.

Prior to arriving at a port, students receive a pre-port briefing regarding the culture and societal rules of the country they are visiting. Upon arriving at the port of call, special guest speakers, ranging from community leaders from the country to American ambassadors, give lectures to the students and faculty. The pre-port briefing as well as the guest lecture prepare students for their time in the country.

Notable Lecturers and Guests[7]


In May 2015, a lease was announced for the ship previously known as the MS Deutschland, to be renovated, reflagged, and renamed the MV World Odyssey,[8] operated by V-Ships.

Semester at Sea has used a number of ships as its floating campus, including the MS Seven Seas (formerly the USS Long Island), the SS Ryndam (not the later freighter of that name), the SS Universe (formerly the SS Atlantic), the SS Universe Explorer, and the MV Explorer. One ship SAS intended to use, the S.S. Seawise University (formerly the RMS Queen Elizabeth), burned and sank in Hong Kong Harbour during her conversion into a floating campus in 1972, and consequently was never used for students.[9] The Universe Explorer, retired in 2005, had a structure of four main decks with a small swimming pool in the stern of the ship. The Seawise University, Universe, and Universe Explorer were supplied and managed by Tung Chao Yung's Seawise Foundation. Concerns about the split between the Institute for Shipboard Education and the Seawise Foundation as well as the safety of the MV Explorer contributed to the University of Pittsburgh severing ties with the program in 2005.[10]

Academic Sponsorship History[11]

Semester at Sea was originally named University of the Seven Seas and later World Campus Afloat before gaining its present name in 1977.[12] On June 1, 2016 Colorado State University located in Fort Collins, CO became the new academic partner for Semester at Sea.[13] Previous sponsors include the University of Virginia (2006–2016), University of Pittsburgh (1981–2006), the University of Colorado (1977–1980), and Chapman University (1965–1975).

Additional Information

World figures such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, and Fidel Castro have all met with the program's participants at various times during its history. In 1999, the program's fame was boosted greatly when it was featured on a season of MTV's reality television show Road Rules.[14]

Ports of call

The itinerary of ports changes each semester, typically voyaging to 10-11 ports around the world.[15]

In the early 90s a spring itinerary included: Nassau/Bahamas, Caracas/Venezuela, Salvador/Brazil, Capetown/South Africa, Mombasa/Kenya, Madras (Chennai)/India, Singapore, Penang/Malaysia, Shanghai/China, Osaka/Japan and Hong Kong.

More recent voyages have explored Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and the Netherlands, with some variation. Semester at Sea plans to embark on a new voyage starting in Fall of 2019 which will include visiting: the Netherlands, Poland, the Kiel Canal Transit, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama Canal Transit, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.[16]

The ship docked in Denmark during summer 2008,[17] in Namibia during the autumn of 2008, Bulgaria during the summer of 2009, and Senegal during the autumn of 2015, the first times in the history of the program that Semester at Sea had visited these countries.


Neptune Day celebration

When the ship passes the equator, the students, faculty and crew of the vessel celebrate Neptune Day a maritime line-crossing ceremony. Students are transformed from "polywogs" to "shellbacks" in an initiation ceremony, involving slime-smearing, fish-kissing, and (optional) head-shaving. Neptune Day is one of several holidays celebrated during the voyage.

Sea Olympics

Students aboard the ship are divided into "seas" (occasionally including: Adriatic, Aegean, Baltic, Bering, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Red, Yellow, the Persian Gulf and three seas for the Lifelong Learners, faculty and children of faculty). The student seas are generally determined by their deck. The seas compete in an all-day Olympic challenge. Opening ceremonies are held in the morning, and no classes are held during the Olympics. Events may include synchronized swimming, pull-ups, dodgeball, trivia, a lip-sync routine and a ship-wide relay. The winning sea gets bragging rights for the rest of the semester and a grand prize, which is usually being the first to disembark from the ship in its final port of call, and a celebration in the faculty/staff only lounge.

Notable Alumni


The Spring 1994 (SS Universe) voyage ended at Hong Kong because the ship was scheduled for dry-dock maintenance after the voyage. However, the ship was unable to consistently meet its sailing schedule during the semester due to persistent mechanical difficulties. The ship made several unscheduled stops, and had to anchor between ports while repairs were accomplished. It was decided to tow the ship to the South China Sea and anchor overnight. Captain Chang had all crew members patrolling the deck 3–5 feet apart with flashlights throughout the night to notify of any pirate boarding attempts. The planned stop at Manila, Philippines was cancelled and the SS Universe rerouted to Singapore. Exams completed at anchor in the harbor, then the students and faculty flew to the next two planned ports of Osaka, Japan and Shanghai, China. The Universe met the students in Shanghai and completed the final leg of the voyage to Hong Kong.

Traveling in foreign countries poses risks for all travelers and a few incidents of non-shipboard fatalities have occurred to participants of Semester at Sea. One student died in a hiking accident on a 1993 voyage, and on SAS Spring 1996, five students were killed in a bus crash during a field trip in India.[19]

The Fall 1997 voyage was re-routed due to terrorism concerns. On November 12, 1997, Ramzi Yousef was convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Consequently, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Americans in the Middle East. On November 17, 1997, while the ship was docked in Port Said, Egypt, and the students were in country, the Luxor massacre occurred. Although no students were involved, fears of further terrorism resulted in the next two ports, Israel and Turkey, being skipped and the ship re-routed to Cyprus and Spain.

The Fall 2000 semester on the S.S. Universe Explorer had 2 incidents. When entering Vietnam, the ship was hit by a barge causing damage to the hull along the side of the ship and closing student rooms. No one was injured by this incident. The S.S. Universe Explorer had to remain an extra day in Vietnam to be patched, but continued on the journey with all passengers after that. Then while getting ready to go north through the Suez Canal to Egypt, Turkey, Croatia and Spain, the ship decided to reroute due to threats in that area against all ships in the Suez. Instead of those four countries, the Fall 2000 voyage stopped in Kenya, South Africa and Brazil.

On the Fall 2001 semester following the events of September 11, the S.S. Universe Explorer was redirected after its stop in Kobe, Japan. The planned route from Penang, Malaysia into the Indian Ocean then up through the Suez Canal to ports including Egypt and Croatia was changed by the State Department of the United States. The ship's route for the semester was then pushed south to include Singapore, Seychelles and Cape Town, South Africa. The ship's communication with other vessels in the Indian Ocean was limited due to the number of American citizens on board and their security around the Indian Ocean area close to the Middle Eastern part of the globe.

On January 26, 2005, the MV Explorer weathered a combination of three storms in the north Pacific, and a 50-foot (15 m) wave[20] smashed the windows of the bridge, breaking one of them, and briefly affecting the navigation systems. After receiving a distress call from the vessel, the US Coast Guard dispatched a Lockheed HC-130 search and rescue plane (which shot footage of the vessel in the storm[21]) and two cutters. There were no casualties, but two crew members were injured. That footage is from the sistership, the Grand Voyager, on 2/14/2005 in Cyclone Valentina. The Grand Voyager is now called the Chinese Taishan.[22] While the vessel underwent repairs in Honolulu, Hawaii, Semester at Sea students were flown to Hong Kong to continue their courses. The MV Explorer rejoined the students in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and continued on to circumnavigate the globe and complete the semester without further incident. The ordeal is documented in an episode of the Weather Channel television series Full Force Nature,[23] complete with home video taken by the students during the storm.[24] Later that year, safety concerns were among the reasons cited by the University of Pittsburgh for ending its 24-year academic sponsorship of the program.[25]

The Summer 2005 voyage was rerouted from London to Le Havre, France due to safety concerns after the London bombings on July 7.

During the Fall 2006 voyage, Typhoon Shanshan caused the MV Explorer, en route from Japan to Qingdao, China, to be re-routed to Hong Kong.

The Summer 2008 voyage was rerouted from Istanbul, Turkey to Alexandria, Egypt due to bomb threats in Istanbul.

During the Fall 2008 voyage, student Kurt Leswing was hit and killed by a drunk driver in Hong Kong.[26]

For the Spring and Fall 2009 voyages, the itinerary had to be changed in order to avoid the possibility of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

During the Fall 2010 voyage, student Andre Ramadan died while docked in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.[27]

During Spring 2011, the itinerary was changed following the tsunami that hit Japan. Instead, the MV Explorer docked in Taiwan.

In Fall 2012, Casey Schulman died from a boating accident while she and other students were swimming in the island nation of Dominica.[28]

The Fall 2014 Voyage was rerouted from Senegal and Ghana to Italy and Spain due to CDC and State Department warnings about the Ebola Outbreak in Western Africa and future voyages have been rescheduled as well.[29]

The Fall 2015 voyage on the MS World Odyssey was rerouted last minute from Turkey to Croatia to avoid terrorism and the refugee crisis.

The Spring 2017 Voyage was rerouted from Mauritius at the request of the vessel owner. The ship went directly from India to South Africa.[30]

On November 7, 2017, at approximately 1600 local time in Myanmar, Kassandra (Kassie) Braun from St. Edward's University fell 20 feet from a pagoda, sustaining fatal injuries. She was a 20-year-old student on independent travel in Bagan while participating in Semester at Sea's Fall 2017 Voyage.[31][32][33]

See also


  1. Nash, James (2010-01-07). "Wiltonian spends 'Semester at Sea'". Wilton Villager. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  2. "About us".
  3. "Our Ship". Semester at Sea.
  4. "Explore Upcoming Voyages on the MV World Odyssey | Semester at Sea". Semester At Sea. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  5. "Course Information". Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-12-15.
  6. "In-country destinations: field classes & program | Semester at Sea voyages". Semester At Sea. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  7. "Faculty & Staff - your expert education team | Semester at Sea voyages". Semester At Sea. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  9. "Media Kit". Semester at Sea. Archived from the original on 2010-06-17. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
  10. Hart, Peter; Mary Ann Thomas (June 9, 2005). "Pitt to end pact with Semester at Sea program". University Times. University of Pittsburgh. Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved May 19, 2009. ...Pitt’s concerns, charging that ISE left unanswered repeated requests by Pitt “for detailed assurances” that the MV Explorer was seaworthy. Maher further maintained that ISE’s decision to part ways with the Seawise Foundation, which for many years had supplied both SAS’s previous ship, the S.S. Universe Explorer, as well as superior maritime management expertise, raised serious safety issues.
  11. "Our History | Institute for Shipboard Education & Semester at Sea". Semester At Sea. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  12. "Program History". Archived from the original on 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2009-05-19.
  13. "Institute for Shipboard Education Signs Colorado State University as New Academic Partner for Semester at Sea". Semester At Sea. 2015-06-04. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  14. "History and Timeline". Archived from the original on 2009-03-29. Retrieved 2009-05-19.
  15. "Explore our Voyages".
  16. "Explore Upcoming Voyages on the MV World Odyssey". Semester At Sea. Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  17. "Semester at Sea – Summer 2008 Itinerary/Calendar". Archived from the original on 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  18. Andrew Cuomo
  19. Hong, Peter (1996) “Deaths Cloud Floating College : After Losing Children to Accidents, Parents Say Risks Weren't Publicized; Officials Defend Program”, Accessed 2011-06-30
  20. "Storm Stories". The Weather Channel. January 2005.
  21. "CRUISE FROM HELL!!!".
  22. "Semester at Sea ship narrowly averts disaster". Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
  23. "Storm Stories". The Weather Channel. January 2005.
  24. Norville, Deborah (January 2005). "Semester at Sea". Inside Edition.
  25. Hart, Peter (2005-06-23). "Provost explains decision to drop Semester at Sea". University Times. 37 (21). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  26. "Trial begins in drunken driving death of US student visiting Hong Kong". Retrieved 2010-12-02.
  27. "UCSB Student Dies While on Study Program". Retrieved 2013-10-16.
  29. Judge, Lauren (October 10, 2014). "UPDATE FOR FALL 2014, SPRING 2015, AND FALL 2015 PARTICIPANTS REGARDING EBOLA OUTBREAK, ITINERARY CHANGES". Semester at Sea.
  30. "Important Message Regarding Spring 2017 Itinerary". Semester At Sea. 2017-03-11. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  31. "US university student, 20, dies after 30-foot fall in Myanmar". Mail Online. Retrieved 2017-11-09.
  32. "Indiana College Student, 20, Falls to Her Death While Studying Abroad with Semester at Sea". 2017-11-08. Retrieved 2017-11-09.
  33. "Death of Fall 2017 Voyager". Semester At Sea. 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2017-11-09.
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