During the fall semester of 2015, Thuy Phuong Nguyen, a Troy University international student from Hanoi, Vietnam, spent time aboard a ship studying international relations and visiting over 10 countries including Italy, Spain and Morocco.
She took this journey with the Semester at Sea program that began in 1963 and allows students to travel by sea while studying a variety of topics.
According to the program’s website, its mission is to “educate students with the global understanding necessary to address the challenges of our interdependent world.
“With the world as our classroom, our unique shipboard program integrates multiple-country study, interdisciplinary coursework, and hands-on field experiences for meaningful engagement in the global community.”
This experience allowed Nguyen, a senior economics major, to study beyond what was available to her in the United States.
“I wanted to study something different that I could not normally study as easy in the U.S.,” Nguyen said.
To prepare for the trip, Nguyen had to obtain several visas, a process that is more difficult for international students. In addition to applying for visas, she also had to fill out the appropriate paperwork to be eligible for the trip.
“For me, it was a very stressful process,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen had previously applied for the Semester at Sea program for two consecutive years and expressed high interest in attending. Yet, due to financial reasons, she was not able to attend either time.
“I knew the third time I applied, it was either now or never; if I did not go this year, I would not have another chance to go,” Nguyen said.
She was determined to study abroad and received financial assistance from the Semester at Sea program along with Troy University’s Global Chancellor Study Abroad scholarship.
Nguyen said that Maria Frigge, director of study abroad, was helpful in attaining the information she needed about study abroad opportunities. The international office also helped Nguyen pursue her desire to study abroad.
“The Semester at Sea program was very responsive in helping me get scholarships,” Nguyen said.
“They are willing to help you as long you show you are willing to make an effort,” she said.
Nguyen explained that there were two different schedules that participants abided by. Aboard the ship, a typical day consisted of eating breakfast, attending class, having lunch, going to another class, and then participating in an extracurricular activity such as yoga or ballroom dancing before the nightly festivities began.
According to Nguyen, every five to 10 days, the passengers arrived in another county. They would have the chance to explore and tour whatever country they were stopped in.
The ship carried students, both international and American, faculty and crew members for a total of about 700 attendees.
As the only Troy student who attended, Nguyen met many new people during her time aboard the ship and connected with the other 50 international students.
“I met so many people from around the country and the world. I even became friends with another Vietnamese student on the trip. We connected with one another and performed together for the talent show,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said one of the most memorable experiences of the trip was when she and several other international students got stuck in France due to their visas. They were flown to Italy to meet the ship there.
“We lost a week’s worth of time on the ship, but we gained time to enjoy Italy,” Nguyen said.
“I learned to find the blessing in seemingly unfortunate situations,” she said.
For students who may be interested in the Semester at Sea program, Nguyen encourages them to check out the program’s website and look at other study abroad programs because there are so many to choose from.
“Paperwork takes time, so start early,” Nguyen said.
“You will need to save money and prepare yourself mentally for the experience,” she said.
A big takeaway from her semester at sea was that Nguyen realized the future is uncertain and people’s reactions to situations greatly affect their lives.
“When I went on this trip, I realized there are so many things out of my control. You cannot control who you are going to meet. You cannot control the weather in another country. You cannot control your social status or the family you were born into,” she said.
“The only way you can really control it is to have a positive attitude, make the best of what life brings to you, and be grateful for what you have,” she said.