Emma Rattenborg - 2015 Program Participant

Monk meditating at Daibutsu, Kyoto, Japan

A monk meditating at Daibutsu in Kyoto, Japan

Why did you decide to do Semester at Sea versus a single country study abroad program?

As a comparative cultural studies major, I felt that having a cross-cultural experience was perfect for me. Not only would I be able to sail to six countries in Asia, which relates to my emphasis on Asian studies, but I would also be able to compare those places to the other countries the program would travel to. I have always had the intent to live abroad and work internationally later on in life, so I felt this was a study abroad program that would allow me to see all of the places I could potentially return to for a more extended amount of time.

What part of Semester at Sea were you most excited about before boarding the ship?

I was most excited to travel to countries like Japan, China, Vietnam, and Myanmar, because of my emphasis on Asian culture. I was also ecstatic to return to India after being there the Summer of 2012. Having the opportunity to travel to so many places that I had always considered to be out of reach was an amazing feeling, even before I left the United States.

What was the most useful lesson you learned from your time traveling when you weren’t on the ship?

I learned how to plan trips without having a strict itinerary. I wanted the freedom to travel independently and at my own pace, but found it challenging to plan and book everything in advance. I learned the benefits of researching exactly where to go and what to do, but I also learned how amazing it can be to let fate decide what the day holds. Oftentimes, while traveling, it seems that everything that could go wrong is, indeed, going wrong. Trying to stick to plans too closely can cause unnecessary stress. Another useful lesson I learned is to laugh at the problems that arise, and then find a solution.

What about lessons from your time on the ship?

Get involved! Semester at Sea is amazing at forming a tight knit community, but it is really up to the traveler to immerse themselves in ship life. Be open minded when interacting with others and be willing to befriend people that are different from you!

Semester at Sea students at the Sea Olympics aboard the MV Explorer

Emma and roommates, Annmarie and Sam, participating in the Sea Olympics, a Semester at Sea tradition aboard the MV Explorer

In terms of your class schedule and study habits, how did they differ during your time on Semester at Sea from being on campus at NAU?

There was a lot of time to do school work on the ship between classes since most of us were only taking 12 credits. The biggest difference was that sometimes we would be sailing for two days in between a port, and other times we would be sailing for 12. This meant that sometimes we would travel for a week, have one class, and then travel again, and other times we would be in class for a week. This made class meetings somewhat inconsistent, but the professors did an amazing job at reviewing what we had been learning and making the lesson plans resonate with us.

Another big difference is the ability to form amazing relationships with the professors, because not only did we see them in class, but we actually lived with them.

How did traveling through Asia contribute to your degree?

Reading about countries in textbooks or online does not compare to seeing and experiencing them in person. I now have an understanding of the places I study because I have explored them. I can now comprehend their history, geography, beliefs, and culture on much deeper level than I could before. I still have so much to learn, but Semester at Sea gave me a great start to forming a global lens and learning more about the countries I am so interested in.

What were some of the biggest differences between your expectations of the Semester at Sea program and your actual experiences?

I expected making travel plans to be a lot more challenging than it was, especially since we didn’t have unlimited internet access on the ship. It’s amazing what can be achieved with limited resources. I also feared that I wouldn’t form close relationships quickly and that it would make finding groups to travel with a challenge. I was amazed at how quickly meaningful relationships formed. There is something beautiful about forming friendships when you are traveling with one another, it really brings people closer.

Mountain view from Le Pouce peak in Mauritius

The view from Le Pouce, the third highest peak in Mauritius

What was the best part about your experience with Semester at Sea?

Waking up in a different country every week was the best part about Semester at Sea. Although some would prefer to stay in one place for an extended period of time, I know that I will have that opportunity in the future.

Traveling to such diverse and unique places at such a quick pace was intense, beautiful, exhausting, and absolutely the most amazing part about Semester at Sea.

Which country was your favorite stop?

Each country was so different from the next that it is hard to say which was my favorite. I enjoyed every single place that we stopped at, and all for very different reasons. Since we traveled to some of the most populated cities in the world, having the chance to explore more rural places was something that really stood out to me.

Myanmar was a country we visited that I had no prior knowledge of and had no idea what to expect. It was one of the countries we visited that has been the least touched by globalization and tourism, and for that I am thankful to have been able to visit when I did. It is a truly beautiful and outstanding place in this world. Not to mention it has extremely kind hearted people and some of the most beautiful architecture.

Volunteer with children at a park in Yangon, Myanmar

Emma and Burmese children at a park in Yangon, Myanmar

What is something you wish you knew before you went abroad?

I wish I had known how hard leaving that last day was going to be. Having dealt with re-entry before I knew that being home after being out of the country for a semester would be hard, but I didn’t realize that saying goodbye to my friends and my new home would be so emotional at that moment. I was surprised that I didn’t feel the need to go home at all, I felt like I could have kept traveling forever. Luckily, I still had ten days in Europe before my experience abroad really came to a close, but it didn’t make the goodbyes any easier.

In what ways has your Semester at Sea experience influenced your day-to-day life?

My experience has influenced my day-to-day life in ways that I am not even completely familiar with yet. I can feel it within that my global perspectives have grown immensely, and I know that I matured in a lot of ways, but I think that my day-to-day life is going to continue to change because of my experiences. I still have a lot of growing to do and this past semester helped me realize that.