Q&A with Semester at Sea Scholarship Winner Harrison Hart

We are proud to announce that Harrison Hart, a TU senior majoring in Photography and minoring in EMF, was awarded a full program scholarship from The National Society of High School Scholars for this upcoming Fall 2015 voyage on Semester at Sea. He will spend 100 days visiting 13 cities in 11 different countries. 

Harrison Hart, recipient of SAS Scholarship

Q: How did you hear about the scholarship?

I heard about the scholarship through my email. I joined The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) back in my Sophomore year of high school and haven’t really had to do anything for them since – it was a one-time fee for the induction and that was it. Other than he induction, the only way I’ve heard from the NSHSS is through their emails that they send out every so often. The emails are usually about updates of the society, but I came across an email from them regarding scholarships. I clicked on it and the first scholarship was a full scholarship to Semester At Sea. Ever since freshman year I had always wanted to do Semester At Sea, but just didn’t think it was realistic from a financial standpoint. Once I saw this I immediately applied! In my application essay I described how it has been something I’ve wanted to participate in since the beginning of my college career. I talked about how you learn so much traveling and that traveling makes you a better-rounded person since you get to experience different cultures, languages, and cities. I had a list of so many countries that I wanted to study abroad in and I felt like it was more reasonable to do Semester At Sea to get a little taste of many countries in one semester rather than just one.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most about the program?

I am excited for the entire trip! This is a once in a life time opportunity that not many people get to experience. I can’t wait to visit all of these different countries. Since I am a photography major, I can’t wait to take a lot of pictures and capture the experience through my own lens. I am also really excited to meet a ton of new people from different colleges all over the world. I’m just excited to be involved in something totally different than what would happen at a university back home. Since there is a huge financial boost from NSHSS, I can focus my budget more towards sightseeing and extra activities to learn more about the countries aside from being in the classroom. Not many students can say they were dormed on a cruise ship, traveling all around the world, earning college credit for an entire semester. Being taught by teachers all around the world, being able to take different classes than offered at my university, all while sailing across the world – is something couldn’t imagine doing if it weren’t for NSHSS and Semester At Sea.

Q: How did the scholarship that you received help to make your study abroad experience a reality?

I’ve always heard about Semester At Sea through the study abroad fair and thought of it as the ultimate study abroad experience. My good friend and fraternity brother, Will Weise, actually went on Semester At Sea last year and he would rave about it was the best experience he’s ever had in life and in college. After listening to him talk about how phenomenal his trip was, and seeing this scholarship for a fully funded SAS trip, there was no point in me not applying. What was the worst that would happen, they say no? A couple weeks after applying, I got an email saying that I was the recipient of the NSHSS Semester at Sea Fall 2015 voyage –  I was breathless! Since I’m a photographer that wants to travel the world for a living, what a perfect way to do so while still being in school getting college credit.

Q: What your plans for the future, and do they include any international aspirations?

My plans for the future are still up in the air. I know I want to be a professional photographer/videographer, but I don’t know what field of work I want to pursue – whether it be portraits, landscape, or event photography. I have my own non-profit organization that I co-founder with my brother in 2007, The South African Lacrosse Project, in which I go to South Africa every year to better the lives of kids affected/infected by HIV/AIDS through the sport of lacrosse. Through this project, I have been able to travel all over the world throughout grade school and college, giving me a more diverse outlook on the world. After college, I will continue going to South Africa along with traveling the world around me. Semester At Sea will give me a greater outlook on the world with experiencing 11 different countries and 13 cities.

Congratulations, Harrison! We look forward to seeing your amazing photos from around the world!

Q&A Spotlight: Katie Brennan

Name: Katie Brennan
Major: Elementary Education
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
Destination: Costa Rica
Institution: Environmental Education and Service Learning in the Tropics

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Q: FOOD, your favorite subject & ours. Best dish? Worst dish? New recipe you picked up?

A: The food was surprisingly very plain. I was expecting spicy Mexican type food, but it was actually very different from that. There was chicken, plain rice, and beans for almost every meal. My favorite thing to eat was the fresh fruit. Every morning, the breakfast bar was full of pineapple, papaya, watermelon, and bananas. I also tried guava and cashew juice! These were definitely not my favorite things, but it was fun to be able to try them. One day, we took a cooking class where we learned how to make empanadas and fried plantains!

Q: PLACES, talk about your favorite spot in your home away from home. Where? Why?

A: During our two weeks in Costa Rica, we visited many different cities. My absolute favorite was the Sarapiquí region. Here, we stayed at the Selva Verde Lodge which was right in the middle of the rainforest. Each morning I would wake up and hear Howler Monkeys outside of my window. While we were in Sarapiquí, we were able to visit a local school and spend time with the kids there. This was an awesome experience. As an elementary education major, it was amazing to see the difference between the school in Costa Rica and schools in the United States. I thought that it was interesting that the students all prayed together before eating lunch and brushed their teeth before returning to class. At recess, the students played soccer together outside of the school. It was nice to see that a lack of resources and money did not stop the children from getting an education. It was obvious that the teachers really cared for the students and the students were excited to have the opportunity to learn.

Q: SPEAKING OF, what new vocabulary have you added to your repertoire after study abroad?

A: Pura Vida! This is the unofficial slogan of Costa Rica. Literally, it means pure life, but it is used as an expression that means full of life or good life. It is a common greeting and is often said when people are happy about something.

Q: WEEKENDS, full of travel. Where did you go? How did you choose? Was it difficult to plan?

A: We only had one free day to explore since the trip was only two weeks long. We were able to choose between horse-back riding and zipling. I decided to go ziplining because it sounded exciting. Ironically, I am terrified of heights! However, my fear is what pushed me to try it. Before I left for the trip, I decided that I would take this experience as an opportunity to try new things and face my fears. Zipling was certainly a way to do this! For the first few lines, I was so scared. I remember my hands and legs shaking as I waited for my turn on the platform. To make things worse, I got stuck on my first ride. I had to turn around and pull myself back to the platform. Although I started off on the wrong foot, I was having a blast by the time I finished. I was proud of myself for trying something new and going out of my comfort zone!

Q: PARTING WORDS. What would you say to students worried / concerned / afraid of studying abroad?

A: I was extremely nervous about studying abroad. I had never been out of the country and did not know what to expect. I also grew up twenty minutes away from Towson, so I had never really been far away from my family and friends. I did not know anyone who was going on the trip and was afraid that I would be lonely and homesick. While the first day took some adjusting, I quickly became close to my classmates. I was with them all day everyday so it was pretty much impossible to not make friends. I was able to experience a life that was so different from what I was used to in Maryland which really expanded my view of the world. I cannot put into words how grateful I am for having the opportunity to study abroad. Doing so pushed me outside of my comfort zone and made me face my fears. Even though studying abroad can be unnerving at first, it is definitely worth it! I am so glad that I did not let my fears keep me from having the time of my life!

Volunteering Abroad: Jane Nay


Name: Jane Nay
Major: B.A. in Economics ’13
Hometown: Salisbury, Maryland
Location: Chachoengsao, Thailand
Program: CIEE, Teaching at Rajabhat Rajanagarindra University from Oct. ’13 – Oct ’14

Q. How did you decide that Thailand was the right place for you? How did you find out about the program? 

I knew I wanted to go abroad and experience something different once I graduated from Towson, but had no idea where or how to start the process. I talked to my professor, Dr. Seth Gitter, about what I wanted to do and he recommended CIEE.

After looking into all the different countries CIEE has, the programs in Thailand stood out to me. I’m not sure exactly why. I liked that Thailand is a slow paced ‘no worries’ or “mai ben rai” kind of place. I read that the people in Thailand are extremely nice and welcoming (true). I liked the idea of going to a Buddhist country, learning about a new religion, and seeing amazing temples. And, of course, the delicious food and amazing beaches!

Q. What is your daily workload like as a teacher in Thailand?

I teach 7 classes, 5 days a week. Each class is three hours long so I only have one or two classes per day. When I am not teaching I am in the office. My time in the office is spent making lesson plans, creating worksheets, and grading. I am expected to be at school (teaching or in the office) from 8:30- 4:30 every day.

My school does not have text books to work out of, so I have to create lesson plans without having anything to work off of. Lesson planning is harder and more time consuming than I expected it to be. I also travel between campuses every day. The work plus the travel can be stressful and exhausting but is also rewarding.

Q. What has been the most rewarding part of volunteering abroad?

The most rewarding thing is making progress in my classes. Most of the students in my class have very little, or no, knowledge of the English language. This makes it hard to teach when English is the only language I speak. I will spend 20 minutes trying to act out and explain a topic, or even a word, in many different ways. Finally, I will say or do something that just clicks for the students. You know because a group of 15 students will say “OHHHH” in unison. That sound is the best sound I have ever heard.

I also find it very rewarding to see students become comfortable speaking English. As the semester has progressed more students are coming up to ask for help. When I first started they were afraid to talk to me, or in English at all. Now, many students are trying.

Q. And the most challenging part? The most surprising?

The most challenging part is communication in the classroom and lesson planning. Each of my classes have around 50 students who range from good at speaking English to having no English at all. It is very hard to create a lesson plan that works for each student because of this huge range. Some days the 3 hours drag. Students don’t seem to understand a thing I am saying. Other days the lessons go just as I wanted. I am still learning the best way to communicate to my students.

The most unexpected, or surprising, thing was having surgery in Thailand. After only being in Thailand for a little over a month, my appendix burst. It got really bad really fast. One day I had a simple stomach ache and two days later I was having surgery. Communication was extremely difficult. Nurses and doctors did not speak English and I do not speak Thai. This experience was the worst, yet the best, thing that has happened to me so far in Thailand. It was the worst for obvious reasons. It was the best because I realized the support I had here in Thailand. I truly got to experience the kind nature of Thais that I have heard so much about. I did not have to stay alone in the hospital once, even if that meant a friend of a friend of my boss stayed the night with me. People were bringing me food once I got home from the hospital. Many people in my town were looking after me. It was a great feeling to know that I had a family here in Thailand and that I don’t ever have to worry about being alone.

Q. How is teaching abroad different from studying abroad?

Since I have never studied abroad, this is a question I cannot answer from experience. I think the main difference would be the responsibility. One thing people have to remember when considering teaching abroad is that it is a job. Not only do you have to show up to class, but you have to be completely (physically and mentally) there every day all day. I have expectations from the University. I have students I am responsible for.

Q. Has your time abroad met your expectations?

My time abroad has been great but in different ways than I expected. I expected to spend most of my time abroad traveling around Thailand and Asia. I do travel and get the chance to see great things, but not as much as I expected. Sometimes it is not realistic to travel since I only have off Saturday and Sunday. This is not a bad thing, though. I have had the chance to meet people, make great friends, and become part of a community. I feel more at home in Thailand than I ever expected. I don’t think this would have happened if I was always on the move.

Q. Any advice for others considering spending time abroad?

Keep an open mind and put yourself out there. It is important to go out and meet people around the town you live in and learn about a new culture. There will be times when you get frustrated and disagree with the way things are in the country you are in. I was told to remember things are not wrong they are just different. I think that is an important thing to remember.