Semester At Sea: A Guide

Imagine a dorm room with a view of the ocean. Waking up to a different shore. University classes with people from all over the world. Seeing the world for class credit.

Semester At Sea is definitely not your typical university experience. As the name suggests, students spend a semester on board travelling to various countries, while taking classes on the arts, sciences, humanities, business, and much more. There are also student clubs, various activities (on boat and on shore), student and health services, and much more.

Semester At Sea is partnered with the University of Virginia, which grants academic credit for all participants. While their main programs focus on undergraduate students, they also have programs for continuing education (non-uni students and seniors), law and education students, as well as teachers. They have programs in the fall, spring, and summer. To qualify for the undergrad programs, students need to already have done at least a semester study in their university and earn a minimum 2.5 GPA.

BootsnAll Travel, a fantastic resource for travellers (especially those of the unusual variety), is publishing a series on getting ready for Semester At Sea. Part One covers applying and preparing – forms, visas, packing, and much more. Check it out to see how to get ready for an experience at Semester at Sea – or any other similar multicountry program.

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Attention all Malaysians 18-25: NESCAFE’s Kick-Start is about to start their 3rd season – and they need you!

The Malaysian Kick-Start, based on Australia’s NESCAFE Big Break, is a reality TV show based on “kickstarting” one’s dream career through start-up money (as a grand prize) and mentorships. Among the careers and projects worked on by the semifinalists include:

  • Race car drivers (this was oddly popular)
  • Artists
  • Writers
  • Event managers
  • Martial arts instructors

and many more.

While Big Break focuses more on individual projects, Kick-Start concentrates on careers; their application forms ask for your “dream career” and their website contains plenty of career-related information. However, based on personal experience (I was shortlisted for the first season and attended the finals) and observation of the winners, Kick-Start tends to work best when you have a certain project in mind: the previous two winners set up a car parking system and a recycling program (though their dream jobs weren’t quite as specific).

Here are some tips for getting through Kick-Start:

  • Have a project in mind – one of the questions asked is “what will you do with the money”. When I was auditioned, I was there to be a writer; however, I didn’t quite have a clear plan in mind. (My theory was that writers don’t have plans!) One other memorable semifinalist (and an acquaintance) was someone who was a “social linguist cum musician”. Apparently he needed two auditions because the judges couldn’t quite figure out what to do with him! However, because there wasn’t much he could do with the money, he didn’t get past the first televised round.
  • Be yourself – There were a few people who deliberately chose offbeat careers just so they can get a headsup on the competition. Fine, if you really want to go to that path, but not so fine if it’s not really where your heart lies! You’ll be more passionate with something you truly enjoy, and it’ll show – to the judges, and the the public voting you on.
  • Don’t be a backstabber – The first few televised rounds are based on group projects; their performance in the group project determines who gets into the finals. During the projects (and even after), quite a few contenstants bitched behind their fellow competitor’s back, gossiping about them and saying quite unfriendly things. This does not reflect well; it only shows that you’re not a team player, can’t get along with people, and you’re very difficult and disagreeable. Not surprisingly, they didn’t get far. Nice guys do finish first!
  • Don’t be afraid to be quirky – this is an extension of “be yourself”. There are quite a number of genuinely quirky people who hold themselves back because they think they won’t make a good impression. Forget that; being quirky just shows more sides of yourself and gives you some personality – it’ll also make you stand out from the rest and be memorable. Don’t be afraid to be silly or do unorthodox things…they can be the key to your success.
  • Watch out for your mentors – this sounds like an odd piece of advice. However, if you’ve seen the first season’s mentors you’ll probably understand. I was very appaled at how almost none of the mentors on the show (bar one) were really “mentoring”; most of them tended to deride their proteges, criticizing rather than helping. One such mentor stood out in this regard; his charge was an aspiring racecar driver, but he (the mentor) was continually absent and never really concentrated on his charge’s progress. While the rest of the track team complimented the participant’s growth (not too bad considering he’s completely new), all he could come up with were criticisms and derision. I felt bad for the participant (a finalist); I wanted him to win just so the so-called “mentor” would shut up! If this is the case with your mentor, go find someone else for support, or rely on yourself.
  • Be dedicated – you’re given a mentorship with someone in the industry (hopefully the quality of mentors has improved!) and some grant money for your project. You’re also relying on the support of the public. Work on it! You can’t laze off now. Indeed, now’s the time to make further progress on the project. Give it your all.
  • When one door closes, another opens – just because you didn’t make the finals (or the shortlist, or the shorter list) doesn’t mean your project is doomed. One semi-finalist wanted to set up a vegetarian restaurant; while she didn’t make the finals, she did get contacted by a fellow restauranter and her dream’s coming true. As for me – that rejection was the “last straw” that led me to research other opportunities…which led me to Up With People…and the rest is history, as they say.

If you’ve got this really cool project in your mind, now’s the time to see it happen – Apply Now! Closing date is 3rd October 2006.

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