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A 'Semester at Sea': The sailing university that's on a world tour

World Odyssey Cruise ship before docking at Mombasa port. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

MV World Odyssey, which docked at the Port of Mombasa last Monday, is sailing a fully-fledged university.

The vessel brought in 800 students, lecturers, and other staff. The students described their Semester at Sea (SAS) voyage as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The ship is still in Mombasa while the students are on a study tour in different parts of the country. 

A tour of the vessel docked at the cruise terminal, berth I, at the port of Mombasa established that the ship’s seven decks have been repurposed into a fully-fledged campus but on water.

For example, on deck three, apart from the indoor pool for relaxation and a medical clinic, there is a counselling centre fully manned by experts. Deck four is the office of an assistant dean of students alongside other accommodation cabins for ship passengers.

Deck five serves as the reception area with cabins all over its sides, while decks six, seven, eight, and nine have the university school amenities.

 Villain Rim, 20, from Kansas State, US, and a student at Wichita State University is studying Exercise Science.

“I am enjoying my time on board. I loved going out of the ship to explore and was excited when I saw lions for the first time in my life around Serena Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West National Park,’’ she said of her safari exploits.

Her colleague and friend, Bella Woodrow, a Business Administration student from a community college in Pennsylvania says that spending time on the ship. At the same time, learning has been an experience she will never forget.

MV World Odyssey Captain Petros Poulakis from Greece said he is happy to see students take their time off dry land to join the ship for more studies.

“They have opportunities to further their studies at sea and when we reach ports where we dock for over a week, they mingle and interact with local communities learning their cultures and their way of life. This adds to their learning experiences,’’ Poulakis said.

Marley Seabern, from California, USA said that when she first heard about the study abroad programme she decided to give it a try.

Seabourn said her time at her local university back home would not be complete without joining ‘Semester at Sea’.

She added that she joined the voyage in Amsterdam and has so far visited a couple of cities in a short period.

Kanon Mori, also from California says the experience and the alliances made so far are worth it.

The voyage will come to an end after the vessel’s round trip from Mombasa to Delhi and then Dubai.

The students have visited different places in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

“For people looking to travel the world and get a taste of multiple cultures along the way, I’d recommend it,’’ Mori said.

A student who gave her name as Fren said that she was mesmerised by the beauty of Kenyan wildlife safaris.

“You have such wonderful sceneries all through. The only little setback is the harsh weather which we are not used to,’’ she said.

For Captain Poulakis every day on the ship is a roller coaster.

“Apart from steering the vessel and ensuring that it is in top shape, I mingle with all my passengers and crew to get to know what each feels about the whole voyage.

There is a lot to do, from paperwork, meetings, answering emails to welcoming visitors when a ship calls at a new port,’’ he said.

He applauded the vast infrastructural developments at the Port of Mombasa from his days as a cargo ship crew.

“You now have a state-of-the-art modern cruise ship handling terminal. I hope that Mombasa Port will be marketed aggressively to attract many cruise ships,’’ he said.

He said that students on board follow a strict routine of going to class and meeting different people all through their time of study on the ship.

“They meet to socialise, and take part in various sporting events available on board. Our decks are popular with students and teachers meeting to chart,’’ he said.

And as is the tradition in all sea-going vessels, Capt Poulakis says that all passengers including crew undergo basic safety drills to prepare them for any eventualities at sea.

Capt Poulakis says while the programme has been popular with students, it took a break at the onset of the Covid -19 pandemic.

SAS was established in 1963 and one of the best parts is the traditions that have been kept throughout the years.

Capt Poulakis said that the vessel, which set sail from Mombasa Port yesterday after a five-day stay, will be coming back early next year in January.

“We hope for more port visits in the coming future,’’ he said.

When not carrying students on its voyage, it operates as a normal cruise liner with all the luxuries at sea.