Today we’re happy to revive our occasional series featuring students who have spent a semester abroad. Christina Sibileva ’18 is a Social Studies Education 5-12 major and History minor; she was kind enough to answer some questions about her experience of the unique Semester at Sea program.
How’d you decide to major in Social Studies Ed? Was it something you knew you wanted to study when you started college, or did you choose it later on?
As a freshman at Bethel, I knew I wanted to pursue a major that allowed me to work with people. During my first two semesters, I believed the way I would work with people would be in the medical field. Through trial and error of the science courses at Bethel, I realized at the end of my first year that the medical field was not for me. In the summer before sophomore year I was flipping through the Bethel catalog for a new major and found myself intrigued by the courses offered in a Social Studies Education 5-12 major. As I began my first semester of the sophomore year with a completely different course load, I realized my skills and interests lined up quite nicely with the courses being offered in my major. I began feeling confident in my ability to grow within my field and step into a career path that allows me to be challenged by learning every day. The social sciences within my major correspond well with the way I perceive elements in life and allow abstract thoughts to mingle with concrete thoughts in terms of history, geography, and the other various topics in Social Studies.
Likewise, what sparked your interest in spending a semester off-campus? Was it hard to fit that kind of program into the Social Studies Ed major?
There were days where I looked outside at the snowy campus of Bethel and found myself regretting choosing a college with a limited climate range. One day I was informed of a program called Semester at Sea, and later on, I saw some peers were currently on the study abroad program, which allowed me to commit to seeing how I could spend a semester off-campus. Due to discovering about the program well into my second semester of sophomore year there were hurdles to jump through in order to fit the program into my schedule. Fortunately, my advisor was willing and able to work with me to ensure the courses I needed would work with my major on the study abroad program and also to ensure I took required courses at Bethel in different semesters than my semester off-campus. The biggest hurdle to face is running into courses that are taught in certain semesters either in the fall or spring, but working with my advisor and registrar allowed me to create a unique schedule to fit all the pieces in and still be on track for graduation.
You picked a particularly distinctive experience. Can you just tell us a bit about Semester at Sea, how you heard about it, and why you went with that option?
Looking at the website alone for Semester at Sea gave me enough insight on wanting to pursue the program. The images on the website include a shipboard community where students live on a ship as their campus and take classes there as well. The locations the program can take you is another reason I became committed to pursuing the program right away. Scrolling through the list of destinations in Asian and African countries allowed me to realize this is a program that can provide me a unique learning experience. I can honestly say I was sold right away with the program because there was something that simply felt right about it, similar to my major choice.
[See also our earlier interview with Meloni Rudolph ’94, who worked for Semester at Sea as a student life staff member.]
What were the most formative aspects of that semester? Any particularly evocative memories of the places and people you visited?
The shipboard community stands out. There were 600 students from various parts of the world embarking on this journey together to study abroad and learn through a broad range of experiences. Within this community, there were unique conversations that occurred allowing each community member to share experiences from the study abroad program, or learn from one another through sharing each person’s story. The community allowed a space to process each experience, learn from one another, and feel refreshed to collect more experiences and memories in each new day that came.
Along the journey, the experiences that stood out the most include taking a seat in a foreign country on a bench and soaking in the new surroundings. With each day there was something new to stimulate your senses, whether that was a new language or culture, climate or season, as we were circumnavigating the globe. I especially remember trekking through Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in various forms of transportation to have an opportunity to take a tour of the Mekong River Delta. Seeing how local communities live and rely on the river was eye-opening and breathtaking. I was able to catch a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals in that specific region and I find myself in awe of the transformative capacity of such an experience.
How did studying abroad broaden or deepen your understanding of history, or shape how you’re going to approach education?
Through this experience I found myself being able to interact with history in a new format that was unattainable at Bethel. Courses in my program were taught by faculty who have lived and experienced cross-cultural historical events or provided insight on how they learned about various elements of history.
Through visiting various countries and being able to explore classrooms in Asian and African countries, I was able to interact with students and teachers about their educational systems specific to their country. One moment from India that stands out was interacting with those students in the classroom about how much they love to learn. I was really intrigued by the passion for education within various classrooms I visited because these students shared similar passions with me. Despite language barriers and varying cultural values; our shared passion to seek and pursue knowledge through education became common ground. The students I met in these various Asian and African cultures showed me how much they wanted to learn from me and made me realize one important reason I want to be a teacher: how much I wanted to learn from them. I discovered my own passion for becoming a global citizen and bringing pieces of who I am, what I have learned, and what I desire to learn into the classroom to inspire my students to become global citizens. Semester at Sea inspired me to continue seeking these moments of being able to learn from students and families abroad simultaneously as I am able to teach students about the places I have been, the places I am going, and connect curriculum to these stories.