Image via semester at sea

Abrupt end to Semester at Sea due to COVID-19

March 31, 2020

A student whose at Sea trip was cut five weeks short described feeling numb and cautiously optimistic, only to have her hopes crushed.

     As the university makes important decisions in response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, students’ plans for the semester are rapidly evolving. Club and organization events are indefinitely cancelled, campus jobs are shifting gears to online and students living on campus are no longer allowed to remain in the residence halls. For students travelling abroad, their semester has drastically changed course.

      Senior and interdisciplinary studies major and former Scribe reporter, Suzanne Seyfi, embarked for her Semester at Sea trip on Jan. 4. She set sail on the MV World Odyssey with hopes of visiting nine countries while enrolled in 12 credit hours – an opportunity that would make her last semester before graduation exciting and memorable.

     When the COVID-19 outbreak was first identified in December 2019, Seyfi and her fellow passengers were notified that they would be unable to travel to China. Although upset, Seyfi understood why the country had to be avoided at the time. However, this change in the itinerary would not be the last – six additional docks would be avoided in the coming weeks, culminating to what Seyfi described as a bitter disappointment.

     On March 13, due to the heightened risk of COVID-19, Seyfi’s voyageended abruptly.

     “I do not experience emotions in any particular order. I’m weathering the storm as best as I can, but I am moving to acceptance,” Seyfi said via phone interview on March 13, after being notified that the ship would dock in South Africa for the last time.

     The announcement came after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a world pandemic on March 11.

     According to Seyfi, Semester at Sea was aware of the escalating situation and to ensure student safety, crew was working overtime and sanitation measures were tripled. “Every country skipped, and every decision made, was based on our health,” she said.

      Although Seyfi was disappointed, she was most upset with the university for what she perceived to be an untimely response and serious issues in communication. For Seyfi, these frustrating missteps added to the strain of the situation.

      “12 hours after I first received an email from Semester at Sea notifying us that we had only three days left on the ship,” Seyfi said, “I then receive[d] an email from the school suggesting that we leave. Throughout this whole thing, this was only the second email I had received from the school.”

      Seyfi had first received an email from the school a week prior which claimed that they were monitoring the situation. Being in the middle of the ocean, Seyfi only had access to her on-ship email, and she did not have constant internet access, so she could only check her email once every two or three weeks. On top of that, four computers were shared among 600 students. Much to her dismay, none of the emails from the university got forwarded to her on-ship address.

     “The fact that they [UCCS] cannot be bothered to figure how best to contact me was very upsetting,” Seyfi said. “The emails came way too late. They were not on top of this situation. The school clearly does not have measures in place to deal with this type of calamity.”

     Seyfi believes that she was not given proper notice by the school. To her relief, she was still able to book a flight home out of Cape Town.

     “Some people ignored the advice to go home immediately, but most are returning to the States. I will be back in Colorado in the next 32 hours,” Seyfi said. “Two months ago, I would’ve stayed. But at this point, it’d be wildly irresponsible,” Seyfi said regarding her decision to heed the university’s advice.

     By vacating the ship early, Seyfi will receive a refund – money that would have covered room and board until the end of the voyage, a small percentage of what students pay for the Semester at Sea experience. (On average, students pay $30,000.)

     “There is an option for students to come back as what’s called a ‘Lifelong Learner’ and they’ll knock $10,000 off the cost,” explained Seyfi. “I think I will just travel by myself from now on to get me to the countries I desperately want to visit. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I now have a vast understanding of things not going to plan.”

     When asked if she had any regrets, Seyfi responded, “That is a difficult question to answer. [My answer] is going to change. Right now, I’m grateful that I was here with people who knew what they were doing. I felt safe and protected on the ship.”

     Seyfi’s travels were to originally end in Amsterdam on April 20. Upon return home, Seyfi plans to self-quarantine, finish her classes and begin searching for a job.

     As of March 15, Seyfi has since returned to the United States.