It was late night of Jan. 26 on board the MV
floating university dubbed Semester at Sea. Sophie, a sophomore
psychology major from HPU, and 650 other students were aboard
the ship as it sailed the Pacific en-route to South Korea.
The storm harassed the ship for the better part of the night,
and it wasn’t about to let up now. Waves crashed against
the side of the ship knocking furniture on its side and students
from their beds. “I remember some people had televisions
unbolt from the ceiling,” Sophie said.
The captain decided to turn the ship back south into calmer waters
so we could get some sleep,” she said. The captain waited
out the storm for a few hours and later turned the ship back
on course towards Korea. The storm was waiting for the MV Explorer’s
At about 4 a.m. Jan. 27, a 50-foot wave crashed into the
bridge of the ship. It was too much for the ship to handle.
windows broke and the bridge flooded, short circuiting power
to the navigation
system. The captain radioed the Coast Guard while faculty
and staff braced for the worst.
The captain came on the loud speaker and instructed the entire
ship community to put on life vests,” Sophie recalls. “Some
people were freaking out,” she said, “most were fine.” As
a matter of fact, Sophie recalls that the mood on the ship was
quite jovial—the calm out numbered the frightened.
All 650 students were instructed to wait on the fifth floor
of the ship as the storm continued to hammer away. “We didn’t
really have a formal student orientation. This disaster became
kind of an orientation,” Sophie said.
Disaster it turned out not to be. The MV Explorer turned
towards Hawai‘i, where it came to port in Honolulu on Feb. 1. The
ship remained docked for repairs as students used the time in
Hawai‘i as a cultural learning experience.
Dr. James Whitfield, communication professor at HPU, was
faculty aboard the ship in the fall 2002 semester. He said
are quite rare. “I believe this is the first time something
like this happened aboard Semester at Sea.” Whitfield added
that every possible precaution is taken for the safety of the
faculty and staff aboard the ship. “This is a world-class
ship. The ship exceeds international safety standards,” he
Sophie said this experience won’t keep her from enjoying
the rest of the semester, which she was only two weeks into.
Whitfield believes it was a minor snafu and shouldn’t
deter Sophie or anyone from embarking to Semester at Sea in
The Semester at Sea program began in the late ‘60s, Whitfield
recalls. Students embark every semester from Vancouver, Canada
and sail round the world in a 100-day semester. Students experience
10 ports of call, disembarking from the ship in countries around
the world. Sophie’s voyage was to visit Japan and Korea,
but these destinations were preempted by the storm.
visit other places such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam,
India, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, and Venezuela.
Whitfield said, “You really get out and you see other cultures.
You don’t just hear lectures about them. You live other
Whitfield stressed that Semester at Sea is not what some
people may initially think. Most of us became familiar
at Sea in 1999 when it was featured on MTV’s Road Rules.
It is not the party MTV makes it out to be, Whitfield said. “Don’t
believe anything you see on MTV. Some students did treat it as
a party, and some students got Fs,” he added.
Most students who embark on Semester at Sea take it seriously—the
approximately $19,000 price tag is enough to make anyone serious
about school. Students meet the same number of class hours, if
not more, on Semester at Sea. In addition to formal classes,
students participate in mandatory field trips and faculty-led
practica while in port. “It’s intensive and an extremely
valuable learning experience. I didn’t know any students
who really worked at it that were disappointed,” said
Sophie and the rest of the Semester at Sea students left
Honolulu on Feb. 11 aboard charter flights to Shanghai.
The MV Explorer
will catch up with the students in Vietnam, said Whitfield.
He wishes he could be with Sophie to experience it all
over again: “It
was one of the best experiences of my life.”