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Semester at Sea: Logistics and Paperwork for a Summer Abroad

This morning I started filling out online forms to secure my family’s tourist visas for Russia.

Even I can’t believe I’m writing that sentence.

When I decided I wanted to be a travel writer about eight years ago, I never dreamed a new focus in my editorial career would take me and my family to Russia, let alone to 10 different European countries this summer while I work as the Communications Coordinator for Semester at Sea.

Believe me, I’ve been on cloud nine since I got the gig at the tail end of last summer. But for several months it’s all been a bit vague; that is, I’ve known the dates we’re sailing, what countries we’re visiting, and a few particulars about the job I’ll be doing.

However, now that we’re only 10 weeks from flying to London to ultimately meet the ship in Southampton to depart for Lisbon on June 16, it’s become incredibly real. And the planning — and the costs — involved with bringing my whole family on this journey are now front and center.

My desk these days is covered in paperwork necessary for joining the SAS Summer 2014 voyage. (Not a bad thing!)

My desk is covered in paperwork necessary for joining the SAS Summer 2014 voyage. (Not a bad thing!)

My to-do list for the trip is growing by leaps and bounds, even though in recent weeks I’ve taken care of the following:

  • Booked flights for me, to and from London.
  • Booked flights for Quent and the kids to London and home from Helsinki. (They are leaving the voyage a couple weeks early so my daughter can try out for the high school volleyball team and both children can enjoy some semblance of a Colorado summer before school starts at the end of the month)
  • Paid room and board for Quent and the children (my room and board is covered).
  • Started thinking about what we want to do during our very brief time in London and figuring out how we’ll get to Southampton, where we’ll board the MV Explorer.

From the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) headquarters, I’ve started receiving all sorts of important information about orientation for faculty and staff before our voyage; forms we need to have filled out by our physician (all four of us must be medically cleared to sail); and the aforementioned Russian visa applications.

Side note: I have been following the Russia/Ukraine crisis, and I do hope it doesn’t affect our docking in St. Petersburg. Of course, I am certain ISE wouldn’t put us in harm’s way, and we’d only dock in a country if it’s deemed safe for American visitors. (So don’t worry, Mom.)

Most exciting, I’ve received and read through the Communications Team manual, which details more of my responsibilities on the ship. It’s going to be intense. I’ll be busy helping to document and share all of the happenings on this voyage — from profiling students and interviewing professors, to overseeing work-study students and sitting in classes, to attending Field Labs (class-required “field trips” in port) and reporting on shipboard events.

I love that my job manual spells it out very clearly: Be prepared to work hard and sleep little as you pack a world of experiences into the next few months. This is not an easy job, but it is extremely rewarding.

Like I said, reality has set in. And I’ve got a lot of questions about my European adventure — nothing to keep me up at night (trust me, I am WAY more excited about my summer plans than anxious about them):

Will I have time to fit in fitness? I am thinking, yes. From what I understand, the onboard gym is small, but student-led fitness classes, such as yoga or Zumba, do get organized. I’m planning on bringing my p90x videos to share. Otherwise, I’m going to be power walking around the decks to get in my 10,000 steps daily. (I’ve already bought a second FitBit in case I lose one somewhere in Europe. Yes, I’m that obsessed.)

Will I be envious of my husband and kids? They’re playing all summer. I’ll be working a full-time job. Truly, I cannot wait for the work challenge. It’ll be a far cry from my not-often-stressful, work-from-home schedule I have now. I’m up for the challenge of producing a lot of content for the News for the Helm blog in a short period of time. But I do wonder if there will be times when I’ll be wishing I had more time to play volleyball on the ship’s sports court with the kids or hang out with some of the other dependent children and their caregivers. (Heck, there’s always mealtime.)

Will I get sick of the ship food? I’ve grown so fond of making my green smoothies daily! I will miss them. Here’s one student’s take on dining hall food from a blog I found online (and I’ve read a ton of past SASers’ posts): The food isn’t bad at all, but it is pretty repetitive. Usually potatoes, pasta, salad, some kind of meat, rice, and bread. There’s also always PB & J. Breakfast is usually eggs, bacon/sausage, fruit, yogurt, pastries, and oatmeal. I’ll tell you this: I cannot wait for tapas in Spain, shortbread in Scotland and dumplings in Russia.

Will my tall 14-year-old daughter be mistaken for a college student? I swear some days she looks like she could be 19. (My husband has strict orders to keep an eye on her while I’m working.) I do wonder if there will be other teens on the ship for my kids to hang out with. If not, I’m hoping my children (ages 12 and 14) will have fun playing with some of the younger kids during the “Dependent Children Enrichment Activities” on the days we’re at sea. Another concern for the kids: Very, very little Internet is available on the ship. We are trying to figure out how they can best communicate with friends back home, while also recognizing that this entire trip will be a wonderful time for a digital detox. (My daughter is an avid texter…)

Will we get seasick? Again, I’m hoping not. But I’ll certainly come armed with some patches to prevent motion sickness.

What will we do in ports? The list of Field Programs — organized port excursions for students, faculty and staff — have not not been released yet. I’m guessing that my family will do a mix of scheduled tours and some independent travel. That said, I will be responsible for covering (reporting on) some of the Field Labs, so I’m not sure how that will all work out — how much planning we’ll really be able to do that far in advance.

Indeed, all of these “worries” aren’t really worries. I know this summer experience will be spectacular, no matter how it all plays out. Professionally, I’m eager to exercise my reporting and storytelling skills in a totally different environment and work with an experienced Communications Team. Personally, I can’t wait to meet hundreds of new people and become part of the SAS family. Plus, I’ll be visiting eight countries I’ve never been to before — and introducing my children to Europe for the first time.

Feeling blessed and excited!

5 Responses to “Semester at Sea: Logistics and Paperwork for a Summer Abroad”

  1. 1
    Laurel says:

    I’m so excited for you! I’ve wanted to do this since Kristin did it a few years ago. Saving it for a “leave of absence” time of my life :-)

  2. 2

    I can answer all those questions for you! No, maybe (but you will love the work you’re doing so it makes it easier), yes (bring snacks), definitely, sometimes while on the Atlantic (but the patches are a godsend), everything. =)

    • 2.1
      Kara Williams says:

      I have been thinking of you SO MUCH as the countdown really begins now that spring break is over and we’re really just more than two months out. :-)

    • 2.2
      Kara Williams says:

      And DO NOT TELL ME I won’t be able to work out. It’s my sanity these days…..

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