The Semester at Sea program, while exposing students to a rich variety of locales and experiences, has been traditionally viewed as a three-month party on a big boat. By vying for a partnership with the program, GW has the unique opportunity to improve Semester at Sea’s reputation and expand the academic opportunities available to its own students.
In the same way that the University makes use of its unique position in Washington, D.C., to augment the educational experience of students, the Semester at Sea program is a natural extension of experiential learning.
GW has garnered respect by offering a great mix of experiential and theoretical learning in international affairs. Students learn the ins and outs of diplomacy blocks away from the State Department and busy themselves with full courseloads complemented by serious internships in the District. A more academically robust Semester at Sea program would complement the Elliott School by offering the chance for students to travel the world seeing politics and culture in action.
Semester at Sea is the only study abroad program that exposes students to such a wide breadth of cultures and locales during the span of only a few months. With a program that extends to multiple countries on four continents, international affairs students who are not content to specialize in a single region can satisfy their tastes with myriad experiences around the world.
To further differentiate the program, GW could use its pull and connections with world leaders in politics and business to enhance the educational quality of Semester at Sea. At locations across the globe, sessions in politics, diplomacy and economics with regional policy and decision-makers would be the pinnacle of experiential learning for Elliott School students. In addition, students in programs as diverse as geography, political communication and anthropology would benefit from a well-developed Semester at Sea program.
While GW hopes to improve study abroad by competing for the Semester at Sea program, the University must also reassess problems within current study abroad policy. Students who study abroad on a GW-sponsored program are required to pay full tuition to GW while they are gone, and GW in turn pays for the costs of their program. It is apparent to anyone that has perused Web sites for universities abroad that the majority of study abroad programs cost significantly less than a GW semester.
University administrators have noted in the past that students studying abroad still use GW services, and therefore should pay tuition to GW rather than to their individual programs. These students, however, clearly do not use all the services that a student on campus is privy to during the year. GW should tabulate the cost that study abroad students incur in GW services while they are away and simply add this standard amount as a fee to the cost of the individual programs.
Semester at Sea has the potential to significantly improve an important aspect of GW – the study abroad experience. If the University is successful in acquiring the program, it must diligently improve the academic value of Semester at Sea so that all students can look forward to a robust educational experience, even while cruising the world on the party boat.