International students

Imtiaz Hasan, is an international student from Bangladesh, majoring in Biology with a chemistry track. He is in his junior year going into his senior year next semester. He is a native of Bangladesh and grew up in the bustling city of Dhaka with a population of 15 million people. He graduated O’ levels with 6 A’s and a daily star award after which he decided to apply for schools abroad.

Imtiaz’s journey in USA started when he received a Honors Scholarship to study at Texas Southern University for his undergraduate degree. Imtiaz began getting involved in campus and activities which made him more curious about the HBCU culture. He worked over the summer as a Peer mentor for the Student Academic Enhancement Institute and soon pledged for Sigma Lambda Beta International fraternity Inc. The fraternity allowed Imtiaz to network with many members from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras etc and also volunteer for many community service events. Imtiaz received an award for congressional recognition from Sheila Jackson Lee. Imtiaz was not satisfied and wanted to be more involved as a global citizen. He wanted to study abroad not just in one country but several countries at the same time. He prides himself to achieve the Tom Joyner Foundation scholarship, which allowed him to become the first person from TSU and the first guy from Bangladesh to study abroad with Semester At Sea. The full scholarship allowed him to take college classes including marine biology, water of the world and music of the world on a cruise ship that travelled to 13 countries. He did field projects in Japan assessing the morphology and behaviour of marine species and Newater project in Singapore. His travel in other countries had also inspired him to volunteer with Habitat for humanity in South Africa and the city of Refuge in Accra, Ghana.

Imtiaz’s current goal is to gain more research experience in Biology to further cater to his interest in Biology in diverse environments. After graduation, he hopes to pursue medical school. He plans to use his skills to answer to many underserved communities around the world.

I was scared but excited at the same time. I had not got all my visas yet. I received my financial award letter in the 2nd week of October 2012. I received the Tom Joyner Foundation HBCU scholarship. The Institute of Shipboard Education and Tom Joyner foundation together offers up to two full scholarships for students attending HBCU schools to participate in Semester at Sea in spring or fall. I felt extremely lucky and I knew I had come a long way from the day that I applied, however a sense of concern dawned on me. I knew that as a Bangladesh passport holder, I would face numerous difficulties obtaining the visas for each country. I looked at my itinerary. 12 countries. I finished a big bottle of Powerade and contemplated about my options. 12 countries sounds just as exciting and scary too. That means I have to get 12 visas. 12 visas in almost 2 and a half months. It sounded totally impossible. I immediately felt like I had won a lottery but forgot to look at the expiration date. I did some research and discovered some countries I can get visas when i arrive on port such as Mauritius, Vietnam and Myanmar. So it comes down to 9 countries. Japan, China, Hongkong, South Africa, Singapore, India, Ghana, Morocco and Spain. That is the trouble of an International student challenged with a mission, which is next to impossible. I remember some one once told me that the US passport and the Canadian passports are the best ones for travelers. I enlisted the help of Travisa who was known to offer expedited visa processing service. They would take your passport and send representatives to go to embassies and apply and make sure the visas are obtained. With my time requirement and status, I was charged around 80 dollars for each visa. So I though about it for a while. Time or Money? I told them to work on the ones that would require the most time like South Africa, Singapore, India and Ghana. For those countries, washington processes the visas faster in about 1 week per visa. That looked ideal. I not only wanted to expedite those ones but also wanted to see how Travisa goes about doing there work. It was very disappointing as Travisa had promised a certain time but it took longer than usual. It took almost 2 weeks for Singapore and 2 more south africa. Sometimes they would say everything is ok, all the documents are intact. In the middle of the going around the embassies, they would tell me that some documents are missing or I have to submit something extra. It almost seemed they had not did their research correctly and there was valuable time lost between me sending and receiving files from them. I ended up getting India, Singapore, SouthAfrica, Morocco and China and it was January already. I stopped my attempts to apply to any other visas and had all kinds of things on my mind that I imagined might happen. My international counselor for Semester At Sea had advised me that there is a chance I might not get be able to get off in those ports, be fined or even sent home. I immediately felt that the window of opportunity was getting narrow. I have to be lucky and slip through that window somehow. I crossed my fingers, prayed and packed for my departure to SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA.

So What Happened? Was I able to get on the ship? Was I detained or fined? Was I sent home?
Well. Once again, I won for the most part.

Me and the chief purser who assisted me to get some of my visas on board.

I was able to get on the ship. Travel to 10 countries and almost 35 international cities. I crossed the pacific and Indian ocean. I crossed the equator and point 0,0 lat long around the world. I was not allowed to get off at HongKong because I did not have a visa. I had to disembark early in morocco because I did not have a visa for Spain. Morocco was the second to the last country of the voyage. Luckily most countries were fairly lenient with the visa and processed japanese, vietnam, myanmar and mauritius on arrival. I luckily had the South African and Morocco visa which were the most necessary. South African port fined people who did not have a visa 2000 USD and also detained them on board. I survived the worst and came out with the best of the situation. But I dont regret it as it was still my voyage of a lifetime

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