Semester at Sea: I’m Sailing around Europe next Summer – with my Family in Tow!

Here’s some big news that I’ve been (mostly) keeping to myself in recent weeks: I’ve been hired as the Communications Coordinator on the Semester at Sea Summer 2014 voyage! For 66 days (June 16 to August 21, 2014) I’ll be sailing around Europe with hundreds of college students on board the MV Explorer, while contributing to the News from the Helm blog and posting updates on the Semester at Sea social-media accounts. I’ll work closely with an on-board videographer and photographer, and will otherwise keep alumni, parents and any other interested parties (you!) updated on what’s happening with the summer program, both on and off the ship.

The best part: my husband and kids are coming with me!

We've drunk the Kool-Aid: SAS logo apparel for the whole family!

We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid: SAS logo apparel for the whole family!

If you’re not familiar with Semester at Sea, in brief, it’s a global study-abroad program for college students that takes place on its “floating campus.” The academic sponsor is the University of Virginia, so class credits that students earn on the ship can be transferred to their “home” colleges and universities. There are Fall, Spring and Summer terms with varying itineraries.

The Summer 2014 voyage (not “cruise!”) will take us to the following ports:

  • Embark: Southampton (London), England
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Bilbao, Spain
  • Greenock (Glasgow), Scotland
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Bergen, Norway
  • Oslo, Norway
  • Saint Petersburg, Russia
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Gdansk, Poland
  • Debark: Southampton (London), England

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve set foot in Europe – and of the countries listed above, I’ve only been to two of them. Needless to say, I’m beside myself with excitement to visit all of these places…. but I’m especially thrilled about being able to see London (finally), Russia and Poland. How fabulous is this itinerary?!

I got the bug to work on the MV Explorer ever since devouring every single post my blogging pal Kristin Luna wrote a couple years ago when she worked on the Fall 2011 voyage. Truly, I had no idea this was even a reality – working for and traveling with Semester at Sea. I’d certainly heard of the study-abroad program – my husband Quent, sailed on the S.S. Universe in the Fall of 1987.

Even before we started dating, when we were just co-workers and friends, it wasn’t unusual for Quent’s travels with SAS to come up in conversation. The program took him to places like Yugoslavia, the U.S.S.R. and the Philippines, and he said the experience thoroughly enhanced his life. Coming from a rural area of Colorado, and sticking fairly close to home in college (at Colorado State University), he says the SAS program opened up his 19-year-old mind and changed his views of the world.

A denim-clad, 19-year-old Quent on the Great Wall of China; today, sporting an S.S. Universe T-shirt he bought in 1987. Packrat.

Here’s 19-year-old Quent rockin’ the denim on the Great Wall of China. And, today, sporting a Semester at Sea T-shirt he bought in 1987. Packrat.

To be honest, I had my heart set on working on board a Fall or Spring voyage; I was all set to pull my kids (11 and 13) out of school for a semester and have my husband homeschool them while we visited multiple continents over the course of four months. I’d applied for eight different gigs in the past two years, but the one that has come to fruition is happening next summer; again, it’s a shorter version, 66 days focusing on Europe and Scandinavia. And actually, the Summer 2014 timing couldn’t be more perfect: my daughter starts high school in next fall, and I was hoping that I could live and work on the MV Explorer before she reached her freshman year. (Yay! Perseverance pays off.)

And, since we’re traveling in the summer months, we won’t have to keep up their school-year academics at all. Bonus!

As far as life on board the ship goes, my children will share their own cabin, likely across the hall from my husband and me. I know we’ll have some free time in ports to travel together as a family, but I will also be assigned to cover some Field Labs and Field Programs (field trips that students and other ship passengers can sign up for) – which is great. I look forward to immersing myself in the culture of the ship, including attending classes where I can, and otherwise getting to know the students, professors, staff and crew.

The MV Explorer - our home next summer.

The MV Explorer – my family’s home next summer.

I also know – from reading Kristin’s reports and talking to the Executive Dean who will be on board the ship with me – that this will be an intense work (and living) environment. It’ll be a fast-paced endeavor to tell the ship’s stories in a short period of time, just a bit over two months. I am totally looking forward to the challenge.

Really, I can’t wait. Part of me wants to board the ship tomorrow.  Part of me is glad I have nine months to prepare for the trip and research tween/teen-friendly things to do in the various ports – I welcome any suggestions in the comments below. My husband also has some time to figure out exactly who will take over his day-to-day job (as a magazine production manger) for the summer. He’s able to take a sabbatical of sorts because a) he co-owns the magazines and b) his travel-savvy business partner is cool with him leaving the country for several weeks.

Chances are Quent and our children will return home prior to the end of the voyage: if my daughter wants to play high school sports in the fall, she’ll need to be home by mid-August. Plus, I think both children will want to spend some of their summer at home in Colorado. I admit that is one “negative” of the summer voyage timing – I absolutely adore the weather and lifestyle of a mountain summer in Colorado; it’s my favorite season of the year.

That said, the opportunity to challenge myself in an exciting, short-term job on board a ship in Europe is extraordinary! I’m more than certain the experience will trump one warm-weather season at home. After all, I’ve had 19 summers to enjoy Colorado’s awesome climate and outdoor fun – I think I can change it up a bit for the opportunity of a lifetime. And to share the travel experience in Europe with my husband and kids?! Phenomenal!

37 Comments on "Semester at Sea: I’m Sailing around Europe next Summer – with my Family in Tow!"

  1. Congratulations on the fabulous gig! I’ve heard such amazing things about Semester at Sea. And how cool that your husband is an alum! Sounds like summer 2014 is going to be a fantastic one for your family.

  2. Gasp! I’m so psyched for you guys!

  3. How exciting! What a dream come true for the family!!!

  4. BEST JOB EVER! I love SAS!

  5. Congratulations! What an amazing adventure to share with your family! Looking forward to learning more, and following your voyage.

  6. So excited for you! And jealous! Can’t wait to hear about this!

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  7. Phenomenal indeed! I can’t wait to follow along your journey. What a perfect trip with timing and itinerary. Oh.. I’m so excited for you and your family.

  8. How awesome is this!!!! You will be so perfect for the job and I love that you never gave up applying. Way to chase those dreams Kara!

  9. Yay, yay, YAY! I am so happy you and your three get to have such an awesome experience. In fact, I’m so giddy for you, I almost feel as if I’m going again! (Which I will be doing in a sense, albeit virtually!)

  10. Wow! This sounds incredible! What an experience for your family!

  11. Congratulations! And you will love this itinerary. For one thing, it takes you to some of the more expensive areas in Europe when it comes to touring on your own. I’ve experienced from Bergen through the remaining portion of your itinerary so ask away if you have any questions. My number one tip: buy amber jewelry in Gdansk. 🙂

    • Kara Williams | September 3, 2013 at 12:30 pm |

      Awesome tip re: amber in Gdansk! I look forward to shopping — and eating — my way through the ports. Will likely bother you with questions as the sail date draws closer…

  12. What a terrific opportunity for everyone in your family! I spent a month in Scandinavia with my kids five years ago. Lots of great stuff to see there! I hear ya, though, on the high school sports creeping into your summer travel schedule.

  13. This sounds incredible! Such a wonderful opportunity and such s blessing you get to include the whole fam! And the hubby is an alum?! Whoa, this is written 🙂

  14. Congrats! What a great opportunity for you, but a much bigger experience for your children. I’m a big believer in travel serving as an education tool and this is one of the best.

  15. SO excited for you! Sounds like a lot of work but a lot of fun too. Congratulations!

  16. Sounds fantastic. I’ve heard of SAS but don’t really know much about them. Looking forward to your posts.

  17. What an amazing opportunity for you AND your family! I can’t wait to read all about your many wonderful family adventures!

  18. Oh to be one of your kids (or long lost sister in our case I guess) and be able to tag along on this trip. I remember reading Kristin’s updates. Sounds like an incredible opportunity for everyone. And once you do a summer session who is to say a fall or spring session wouldn’t follow at some point. So thrilled for this new adventure in your life!

  19. What a great experience for your family! I can’t wait to read all about it.

  20. Lesli Peterson | September 3, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Reply

    How wonderful!! Travel is one of the richest forms of education; kids get their hands dirty experiencing history, culture, and so much more. The more we do to encourage programs like this, the more opportunity we have for real peace between nations. Congrats to you and your family!! What a honor to be called to such a duty.

  21. Dude. DUDE!> You’ll be part of the family now so you might as well start planning for a RTW voyage at some point in the future.

    Right. On. Be sure and say hi to Manny for us and have a blast. We will be following along for sure!

  22. Congrats!! This is amazing! What an opportunity for your family!

  23. Congratulations, Kara!! I almost applied for the same position but another semester. 🙂 How exciting to have your family with you. Way to go!

  24. Kara, I finally wrote up a post about our days in Oslo this summer. Granted our kids are very different ages, but I think your family would enjoy some of the same sites we covered. (Mostly outdoors… hope you have great weather like we did!) I’ll be writing about a few of these attractions in greater detail if you want more info.

    So happy your family will have this great adventure!

  25. I know you told us all about this, but I just had to read all the details. Very happy for you!

  26. way to go!!! Thats going to be a tremendous experience! I lived overseas (in Africa) as a teen and it totally changed me – broadened my horizons made me less judgmental and overall spoiled – first-world-kid-diseased. 🙂

  27. How exciting! As a college student, study abroad opened my eyes to another way of life. I returned the following year on my own, and it was then that my desires to travel and live abroad were born. How nice for you to share in such an experience with the students and your family!

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