Kelly Swartzbaugh - 2012 Program Participant

Zip lining in Spain

Zip lining in Spain

Why did you decide to study abroad? 

As soon as I got to college I knew I wanted to study abroad. I had friends who shared their experiences with me and I began planning my experience pretty early. I wanted to expand my horizons and learn about the world through first hand experiences. I did a lot of online research and was trying to decide between programs in Italy and Spain. I had traveled to Germany as a high school student and I knew that I wanted to explore Europe further.

Why did you choose Sea|mester for your international experience? 

Originally, I wanted to study abroad in Italy or Spain and I was having issues deciding where I wanted to go. I chose Sea|mester because I was able to visit multiple countries and continents in the same semester! I also wanted to learn how to sail, so the sail training and scuba instruction were huge benefits. I had never been sailing before so I was also excited to live onboard a sailboat while sailing across an ocean.

What makes a voyage with Sea|mester so interesting? 

Seamester is so interesting because it takes a unique person to want to board a sailboat with a group of strangers and cross an ocean! The staff and students onboard are so amazing! Each person had such a unique story and we all came together to form a cohesive, working family. The teamwork and communication skills Sea|mester developed in each of us were enough to make the trip worth it, let alone the knowledge and experience! We rode camels on the beaches of Morocco, went zip lining in Spain, saw the Coliseum in Rome, and hiked mountains and saw beaches on many islands from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean! 

Hiking in the Mediterranean

Nothing like reaching the peak after a long hike in the Mediterranean

What is the best thing about Sea|mester that future participants need to know? 

The best thing to know is that Sea|mester is a once in a lifetime experience. For me, I knew I wanted to do the program as soon as I heard about it, but I can understand why others have hesitations. My advice is to take the leap; you won’t regret it. I have made some of the best friendships from this program, where 30 strangers turned into one family. I usually talk to one of my shipmates everyday!

Another thing to know before choosing Sea|mester is pack lightly. Make sure to think about the amount of space you will have onboard a boat (which is not much). Try to pack outfits with layers so you can wear them when it is hot and cold. Depending on the itinerary, you can have a variety of weather, so packing accordingly is important! 

What was your favorite part of your program?

My favorite part of the program was the sense of community we had onboard. Yes we got to visit beautiful places and do amazing things, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn’t have my shipmates to share the experience with. I also enjoyed the days where we were sailing and could not see land.

I loved the feeling of being disconnected and really living in the moment with the people and in the places around us.

Students aboard a sailboat

Watch team three group photo underway to the Caribbean! 

What's one thing you would have done differently during your program?

I traveled early to Italy to explore before the program started. I would definitely encourage that, but I almost lost my luggage! Thankfully I was able to pick up my bag from the airport in Rome the day before the boat left! If I could go back, I would probably have used a luggage tag so airline representatives could have identified my luggage.

Describe a day in the life of a Sea|mester shipmate. 

Depending on which watch you have, where you are at in the world, if you are underway, or on the dock, you wake up and watch the sunrise while eating a tasty breakfast on deck. You may have a marine biology class if you are underway or you may be at anchor and decide to go for an early morning dive! Everyday is a new day and there are no two days that are the same! 

Did you experience culture shock during your voyage with Sea|mester? 

I did not experience culture shock. When we docked in a new place we were all together. We would explore in small groups or go on a planned excursion as a crew! The staff were really helpful in preparing us for each port. We would normally have a briefing about the port of call and we would talk about things to do, the people, and the culture of the area.

Students on a boat near Morocco

Snack time while underway to Morocco

How would you say your study abroad experience has impacted your life?

Sea|mester was so much more than a study abroad experience. I met my best friends, changed my career path, and now I work everyday in a field that I love. I will never stop exploring and adventuring, and I recommend Sea|mester and studying abroad to everyone I meet!