Top 6 Lessons I Learned While Studying Abroad with Semester at Sea

This post is courtesy of Aurora Burke, ASU Study Abroad alumna and a current Peer Advisor in the Study Abroad Office! She studied abroad on a multi-country experience through a partnership program with Semester at Sea.

During the fall 2015 semester, I had the opportunity to study abroad with Semester at Sea. During this semester I lived on a ship for 100 days while traveling to over 10 countries. Throughout that time, I learned some valuable life lessons along the way. These are the top six lessons that influenced me personally, professionally and academically that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.


1. It’s okay to be selfish… sometimes.

I spent a lot of my life worrying about the people around me. I felt the need devote my entire self to my friends and family. I would miss school just to attend my brother’s school meetings. I would stay home while my friends were hanging out so that I could help out my mom by babysitting my younger siblings. I was the friend to call sobbing after a bad breakup. I was the person you could lean on any day, any time.

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Spending time with friends
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Dinner with family







When I studied abroad I had the opportunity to remove myself from my normal life. I was only able to communicate back home by FaceTime once a week when I happened to find good wifi or by email. This seclusion from my home life gave me the opportunity to be independent of the life I had previously lived. I made my own decisions and I was incredibly less stressed because of it.

This experience changed me. I learned how to balance supporting my friends and family while also making sure I was happy. I’ve learned to set boundaries and accept that I should put myself first sometimes.

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Embracing the new me




2. Almost anywhere can feel like home.

For a long time, I always told people I would move back to New York, where I grew up after I graduate from ASU. I never thought I’d be able to find a home that felt quite like Long Island, New York but the beauty of the world is that anywhere can feel like home with a few essential things. For me, these essential things include:

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With friends on the top deck as we arrived back in the US

1. A blanket, because I am always cold and want to be warm.

2. A supportive community, whether that be friends or family, who will help you through the tough days and celebrate the good days.

3. A place where you feel safe and comfortable because this allows you to be yourself.

Surprisingly, with these three essentials, I found a place to call home. The M.V. World Odyssey was our campus, but for the duration of the semester, it was my home. After a long day of traveling, I couldn’t wait to board the ship where I knew I could relax, cuddled in a blanket, surrounded by good company. I still miss my ship home, even more than I miss my home in New York. Now I know, that anywhere can feel like home if I make it my home.

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The M.V. World Odyssey, my home


3. Networking is unavoidable when you’re on a ship.

I personally think networking sucks. I know it’s important, but I really hate it. Talking to new people is one of my least favorite things to do, so I avoid it whenever possible. However, when you live on a ship in a community of about 600 people for 100 days, it’s impossible to avoid making connections with people.  

Before you know it, you have a guaranteed recommendation letter from a professor who once worked at NASA, you have the personal email for the guy who is on the board of an NGO in Nicaragua, and one of your classmates is a millionaire who sold his startup company when he was 20 years old. Pretty cool, right?

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Dr. G, Geology Professor

Study abroad, no matter what program you go on, introduces you to some pretty important people. The most important thing is to connect with as many people you can, and keep in contact! You never know, it might come in handy to know someone who studies tiger sharks in Australia.

4. I can be an engineer anywhere in the world!

I’ve always dreamed of living abroad, but I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to do it. Even know, I don’t have a clear plan but I have had the realization that I can be an engineer anywhere in the world. My field, civil engineering, affects a lot of the vital parts of a community. Bridges, roads and water systems are all things that are important to a developed or developing society.  

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One of the first solar houses in Trinidad and Tobago

As I traveled the world by ship, I marveled at how technology has spread across the world and I saw the potential for it to spread to new places. This experience encouraged the idea that I will be able to find my dream job abroad once I graduate from college.


5. Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom.

We spend the ages of 5-18 in school, and if we’re lucky we spend another 4 years in college, and then maybe even continue on for another 2-4 years for further education. We are taught that when you learn something you go to school. 

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Learning about asphalt and oil at Pitch Lake

However, when I studied abroad, I discovered that learning doesn’t have to happen in the classroom. It can happen by speaking with locals in a new place. It can happen by volunteering for a new organization. It can happen by visiting an old church.

While learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom, I do love to be able to connect lecture content to an experience that I’ve had. It makes the student emotionally and physically invested in the learning process.

One of most amazing benefits of studying abroad is the ability to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and further your learning in the real world.

6. Study what you want to learn.

If you didn’t realize it already, I’m studying to be an engineer. However, I’m not just interested in learning about engineering, I love to learn about water, natural resources, biodiversity, etc. 

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Open water channel in Morocco

When I studied abroad I couldn’t take engineering classes, so I was able to select 15 credits learning about pretty much anything I wanted. During this time I took a class on marine biology, geology, conservation of natural resources, energy sources, and water. This opportunity gave me the chance to learn about things I had never considered before. I was so grateful for what I had learned and the new passions I had found during my study abroad experience that I decided to continue learning about water.

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Rachael and I after successfully defending our thesis on Water Education

At ASU, I had to complete a thesis before graduation. I could have somehow related this project to my engineering coursework, but instead, I decided to expand upon my study abroad experience by working with a future educator to develop a curriculum focused on water resources. Now, this won’t specifically help me earn my engineering degree, but I have learned a lot about water and education, two things that I hope to incorporate into my life in the future.

I hope that I continue discovering new things I love. Taking the time to study and learn about a new topic is completely worth it!  Each of these lessons impacts my life every day.

I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to study abroad with Semester at Sea. By far, the most impactful experience of my life.


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