Kaitlin Toney is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She spent the fall semester of her senior year studying abroad with Semester at Sea and then went on to earn her B.A in Organizational and Strategic Communication. She is now navigating post-grad life as a full-time marketing coordinator and has aspirations to go back to school in the fall to get her M.B.A. Kaitlin enjoys snowboarding, hiking, yoga, and everything else that the beautiful state of Colorado has to offer her.
I have known that I have wanted to study abroad during college ever since I was in high school. I decided to go to a smaller university which ended up being a great choice for me except for one thing. My school did not have a study abroad office. This made it exceptionally difficult for me to figure out how and where I was going to go abroad because I had to travel to our sister school three hours away in order to get all the information and materials that I needed to be able to study abroad. It was a very time consuming process, but I am so glad I went through with it.
After I had all the necessary meetings and knew all of the options of where I could study, I finally came to the decision to do a Semester at Sea. I chose this particular program because I couldn’t make up my mind on which country I would prefer to live in for 6 months, I wanted to see them all! Semester at Sea gave me the opportunity to see 16 different countries with over 500 other college students from around the world. The voyage that I participated in was the Atlantic Exploration in the fall of 2013.
At first I was a nervous wreck. I went on the voyage not knowing a single soul. This was scary but it ended up being the best thing for me. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people, people that I normally would have never spoken to at my home university. I made friends from Russia, Germany, Canada, Kazakhstan, China, Morocco, Ghana, Belgium, even Cuba. The friends that I made while on Semester at Sea will be my friends forever. I learned so much from them. They helped open my eyes to different ways of life. We had so many once in a lifetime experiences together that it would be impossible not to stay friends for a lifetime.
I also had some pretty incredible professors while on Semester at Sea as well. My global media professor really opened our eyes to the flaws that we have in our media system. None of my professors at my home university even mentioned all of the bias and corruption that is the media, so before Semester at Sea I didn’t even realize. Now I see it everywhere and it has inspired me to want to try and change it. Semester at Sea also has people come aboard the ship as inter-port lecturers. One woman in particular really caught my attention because she started out just like me, a communication major from a smaller university, and became the owner of a very successful public relations firm. She then went on to start a non-governmental organization to help women in the Middle East. And I actually got to sit and have multiple meals with her and have personal conversations. If that doesn’t inspire you to do something significant with your life, I don’t know what will. Not to mention the incredible experience that was listening Desmund Tutu speak while we were in South Africa.
I also was able to have so many incredible once in a lifetime experiences that I will never forget. I got to see the Black Swan ballet in Russia. In Germany, I was able to really see what the Holocaust was like by speaking to survivors and their families. I ate authentic Belgian waffles. I got to learn how to surf in Portugal. I rode a camel to the middle of the Sahara Desert and camped there over night. While I was in South Africa I was able to visit the church where many events of the apartheid took place, and while we were there, there was a protest going on outside. It felt like we were right back in the times of the apartheid, it was surreal. During my time in Argentina, I rode horses with authentic cowboys, and stayed in a mansion built in the 1800s. I did hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro. I got to visit the University of Havana in Cuba and party with Cuban students.
My favorite thing about Semester at Sea was all of the experiential learning that I did. I learned more in this one semester then I did in all of my other semesters of college. I got out of my comfort zone and did things I never would have done otherwise. It was the most fun and memorable semester of my undergraduate career.