Around the World in 100 Days: Taking Kids on Semester at Sea
Semester at Sea with the kids By Yahoo! Travel
Semester at Sea ship (Courtesy Semester at Sea)
The words Semester at Sea may conjure up images of hundreds of college students aboard a nautical campus, sailing around the world with ship parties and port adventures. But for Jenn Zoll of Virginia and her family, it was a transformative educational adventure. "Our four children have been exposed to the world in a learning-based environment," said Zoll, who, coincidentally, met her husband Mike onboard a Semester at Sea voyage in 1993.
For parents who value lifelong learning, Semester at Sea is becoming an ideal way to educate kids through travel. Not only are college students reaping the benefits, but families with young children like the Zolls are starting to take Semester at Sea journeys, claiming that it is an equally life-changing experience for parents and children alike.
"There are many people who take a non-traditional approach to educating their children, like home schooling or Montessori schools," said Debbie Clifford, associate director of Enrollment Management, Institute for Shipboard Education/Semester at Sea. "Rather than go on a typical cruise, this is a safe, organized way for a family to participate in an educational program, exposing their children to college students who serve as role models and mentors."
Semester at Sea students (Courtesy Semester at Sea)
If the idea of bringing your kids on a ship with 550 college students sounds daunting, think again. "One of the best benefits of Semester at Sea is being in class with these students," said Jay Orris of Boulder, Colorado, who took his two sons, Luke and Ryan, now 12 and 11 respectively, on Semester at Sea in 2012. "They are serious about making a difference in the world and understand the opportunity that is in front of them to see the unexpected."
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Kim Pavel from San Diego brought her 10-year-old son, Rex, on a voyage in 2014 and after seeing the impact, decided to take him again this coming winter. "After being exposed to global issues, gaining an understanding of other cultures, and seeing how the world is interdependent on resources that go across boundaries and cultures, my son’s energy for learning has grown," said Pavel.
For families who like to travel and who have the flexibility to be away from home for four months, Semester at Sea makes practical and logistical sense. "Traveling on our own with four kids to some of the places these voyages go would not be nearly as easy or safe." said Jenn Zoll. "In some ports, we take advantage of ship-planned outings because of safety and ease of travel, but in others where we feel safer, we often travel on our own."
But What About School?
According to Clifford of Semester at Sea, there are about 30 to 35 kids under the age of 17 on each sailing (the minimum age is 2). Each semester, fall and winter, has a different itinerary and lasts approximately 100 days — with about half the time at sea, and the other half in ports.
Each parent who brings a child on board is responsible for overseeing their child’s schooling. On days at sea, the Dependent Child’s Program provides a staff member who coordinates the learning environment — sort of like a one-room schoolhouse — where students up to age 17 work on a home-school curriculum in the morning. Afternoons are for more school and time for guest lecturers, art, music, gym, or a game of ping-pong or soccer.
When the Orris family took their sons Luke and Ryan on Semester at Sea, the boys’ school back home gave them a curriculum to follow. "The college students would volunteer to teach different subjects, like English, math or Latin," said Christy Orris. "Some of them wanted to be teachers in the future."
In some cases, children are allowed to sign up for a college course. Luke Orris took the Global Studies class that all the college students and adult lifelong learners took and soaked it in — sitting in the front row during lectures, asking questions and even taking the exam.
Life at Sea
Class onboard (Courtesy Semester at Sea)
Days at sea are structured around studies and meals, with downtime and activities in between and in the evening. Like their children, parents study, too, choosing from a variety of college courses, such as entrepreneurship and global development, sustainability, and travel writing.
In preparation for port arrivals, all on board are invited to lectures given by local professors and students, who offer explanations on a specific topic — like renewed nationalism in Russia — in an effort to share knowledge with Semester at Sea passengers about their country’s culture and political climate.
But most of all, life at sea is where bonding takes place. "The ship is where we process the difficulties of travel, the joys, and the hardships we witness in port," said Jenn Zoll. "And the sea and skies are a constant through the ever changing ports and cultures we experience in 100 days."
Life on Land
Students on a land excursion (Courtesy Semester at Sea)
While the ship offers consistent comfort and structure, time spent on land is less predictable. There are field lab classes and organized day trips that families can sign up for, or you can explore on their own.
Kim Pavel and her son, Rex, went berry picking in the Arctic Circle, toured a ginger bread factory in Poland, and learned about sustainability with architects in Stockholm."Our boys got to see different types of humanity," said Jay Orris, whose father Milton Orris also took the voyage adding a third generation to the dynamic. "From Mumbai, a giant city that functions pretty well, to Cambodia, where young kids are selling T-shirts to help their parents, to Ghana where, in a village of 4,000 residents, only four buildings have electricity."
Accommodations on land are varied, with hotels and homestays the most typical. The Orris family mixed it up with overnights spent sleeping on hammocks in the Amazon, in the townships in South Africa, and with a family in a small village in Ghana.
Spending time in new countries as a family has become "part of the family DNA" said Jay Orris. "The memories we’re creating as a family are unbelievable and it’s much deeper family time because of sharing these experiences. Setting sail on their third voyage next winter, the Orris family says Semester at Sea has proven an easy way to travel with the kids. "It’s like having a floating bedroom," said Christy Orris. "In certain countries, like India and parts of Asia, you can get over-stimulated, and you come back to the ship and it’s a sort of home and safe haven."
Watching kids grow and change is highlight for parents as well. Sophia Zoll was a shy 13-year-old who was nervous about visiting a local orphanage in Burma and being surrounded by the children. "After initially feeling terrified, Sophia was glowing by the end of the visit," her mother, Jenn, said. "She spent the entire time letting girls tie her hair in ribbons and hold her hands and she was smiling the entire time."
The College Community
Many of the college kids love having the younger kids on board. "A lot of students have younger siblings and they really accepted our boys," said Christy Orris. "Because of Luke and Ryan, we got to know the students better."
Each voyage also has an "Adopt a Family" program that randomly matches students with the lifelong learners on board. The Zoll family met regularly with their 10 adopted students for dinner and game nights. "We loved the normalcy we were able to offer these students who are all far from families of their own."
In addition to ice cream outings and pizza parties, Kim Pavel and her son Rex met up with her adopted students after each port to share their experiences. "They call me Mama, and we’ve stayed in close touch with many," said Pavel.
(MORE: Kid-Friendly Cruises)
Student cabin (Courtesy Semester at Sea)
While exposure to new languages and cultures are huge benefits of Semester at Sea, children also learn to deal with uncertainty and be more flexible, and how to problem solve. "Even the negatives during a voyage turn into positives, said Jenn Zoll. "It’s a good thing to feel homesick and feel out of your element and then push through these times and realize that this teeny cabin is home and the people on board are your people."
Above all, kids gain a deeper understanding of the world outside their own. "When you see something and have an experience, it’s a whole different view than reading about it from a book, said Christy Orris. "I’m looking forward to have that feeling of an adventure again — setting sail and having 100 days together."
Non-college students are registered as Life Long Learners for their Semester at Sea. The children also become part of the Dependent Child Program. The cost of the Semester at Sea (approximately 100 days) is between $30,000-36,000 per person, depending on the cabin. For a child under 12, it’s $1,500 per; and for child 12-17 it’s $3,000. Three meals a day are included, as well as access to all activities on board and the premium health insurance plan for each traveler.
By Caren Osten Gerszberg
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