Caroline DeStefano ’21 is a Graduate Assistant Global Education Advisor in the Center for Global Education. She earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology and is pursuing a Masters in Leadership Development. Caroline studied abroad on Semester at Sea in spring 2018.
When I was a junior in high school, I remember touring Chapman’s campus and my tour guide mentioning Semester at Sea. He quickly explained that it was a semester abroad program where you take courses on a ship and travel around the world. I had never heard of anything like it. It sounded amazing! But it also sounded so surreal and far away. After a few months, I was making my college decision, and in the back of my mind, I knew if I picked Chapman, Semester at Sea would be a possibility. I had no idea if I’d even do it, but at least I’d have the option.
Flash forward a few years, I found myself loving life at Chapman. I moved away from my home, made friends that felt like family, and got involved on campus. The idea of leaving Chapman began to feel very real. While I loved traveling and knew it’d be a great opportunity, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be gone for a whole semester. Looking back with a little more perspective, I know a semester isn’t that long, but, in the moment, it felt like a long time! I started to think about a shorter program like a travel course or an international internship. I remember browsing Global Gateway, waiting to stumble on the perfect short term program. But as I kept searching, I kept coming back to Semester at Sea.
I ended up deciding to apply to Semester at Sea, quite frankly without real intentions of going. I was not ready to leave my friends or give up my involvement. And to be honest, living on a ship in the middle of the ocean sounded a little terrifying. Questions kept running through my mind: What would I miss out on? What if I wanted to go home? Things would still be the same when I got back, right? I’ll travel after I graduate anyway, right? Still, a part of me knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I decided to make a commitment to myself. I’d apply for a scholarship. I received it, I’d go. It would be too incredible of an experience to turn down. Months later, when I had already accepted that I didn’t get it, I opened my email. I got the scholarship. I wish I could say I was ecstatic, but in the moment, I was mostly just shocked. I spent the next few months preparing: purchasing extra passport pages, filling out visa paperwork, getting vaccines, finding a roommate, meeting other students through Facebook groups, subleasing my room, and packing for four months of traveling to eleven different cultures and climates.
Excitement certainly began to grow, but that fear stuck around for quite some time. It was not until the first week on the ship that I truly felt like I had made the right decision. Three years later, I can say it was one of the best decisions of my life! It was an experience that still leaves me feeling incredibly humbled, challenged, and hopeful. So, while I was afraid that everything at Chapman was going to change, as cliché as it sounds, I came to realize that the only thing that really changed was me. My friends, connections, and opportunities were still there–I just had so many more stories to share! I also immensely expanded my network and came back with a new perspective. I was able to take my passions for leadership and education and apply it to an international context.
I even find it somewhat ironic that after not wanting to leave for a semester, I now work in the Center for Global Education, helping other students get their global experience! So, my advice to those thinking about going abroad: take advantage of the opportunity. You might just be surprised at not only how much you grow but how much your world grows!
More information for Semester at Sea can be found on the Global Gateway. Chapman offers Semester at Sea Chapman Scholarships that are available only to Chapman students who are accepted to Semester at Sea.