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Semester at Sea suits ASU’s Sporka just fine

February 11, 2008
Kaelynn Sporka never dreamed that she would spend part of her college career sailing the oceans of the world.

Yet the 20-year-old tourism development and management major at ASU won a $7,000 scholarship from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars to join the Semester at Sea program, taking college courses and learning about different cultures while sailing around the world.

“This was something I couldn’t even have dreamed of,” Sporka says. “I’m a financial aid student, and my family has little to contribute to a program like this. I was well aware I was setting my sights high, but I didn’t want to let money be an obstacle.”

Semester at Sea participants join about 670 other students during fall and spring semesters to study from more than 70 course offerings, most of which are in social sciences and humanities. A summer session plays host to about 450 students, with 30 courses offered.

Around 35,000 students have experienced this “life-altering learning adventure” during the program’s 30-year history, according to its Web site, The University of Virginia academically sponsors the Semester at Sea program, which is operated by the Institute for Shipboard Education in Charlottesville, Va.

Sporka’s semester began in January, after she flew to Nassau, Bahamas, and boarded the ship for a journey to locales such as Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Hawaii.

Although she has traveled to Mexico and China before, Sporka is looking forward to exploring new cultures and countries, and she thinks India will be especially intriguing.

“The culture really is fascinating to me,” the Tempe native says. “You don’t get an idea of what something is like unless you’re immersed in it.”

Immersion in many cultures is a given on this trip. That’s something Sporka never thought she would do in one three-month-long journey aboard a ship full of other college students taking the same tour.

Sporka also is looking forward to the opportunity to give something back to the people and places she visits by volunteering at orphanages and helping to build homes.

“You learn a lot about yourself when you’re in a new culture,” she says. “It puts into perspective how you are living your life.”

The trip also will provide her with valuable experience for a career in tourism where she hopes to one day manage large-scale events or work in the travel industry.

Stops in different ports along the journey directly relate to classes with professors sending students to temples for a religion course, or to museums as part of coursework in art classes, Sporka says. Her course load will cover 12 to 15 hours of college credits.

“It’s full time,” she says.

Sporka already had won a $4,000 Dorrance Scholarship to study abroad when she decided to apply for the Semester at Sea scholarship.

Representatives from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars in Washington, D.C., were impressed with Sporka’s answers to essay questions, and they sealed the deal after a telephone interview.

“What we were really impressed with was her phone interview,” says Mishri Someshwar, National Society of Collegiate Scholars communications coordinator.

Sporka was “exceptionally certain” about how the program would fit into her academic career and life in general.

Life aboard the ship will entail sharing a cabin with limited storage space with another student. She is limited to two collapsible suitcases that need to fit underneath her bed.

“It’s going to be smaller than my dorm rooms,” she says.

And there’s one issue she’s hoping won’t interfere in the trip.

“I have motion sickness in my family,” Sporka says. “They do have a medical center on board.”

Those who want to keep track of how Sporka is doing on her journey around the world can log on to her blog at