Semester at Sea: JaPlanning

This my last post before the travel frenzy begins! After 2 weeks of class every day (no weekends aboard the MV Explorer; only A Days and B Days), the abroad experience begins tomorrow. I’ll be visiting five countries during the next six weeks (Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Burma), and will spend six days in each of them, with the exception of Singapore (two days). We’re scheduled to port in Japan tomorrow, and everyone onboard is in an anxious, excited and happy state of mind. After seeing nothing but blue outside for 11 straight days, Japan will be on the horizon tomorrow!


Homework at sea

All this week we’ve had evening lectures on Japanese culture and how to travel well. We have a guest lecturer on board who has been presenting every night on the culture and customs in Japan – did you know that the Japanese don’t allow people with tattoos to enter their famous hot springs locations? It has to do with gang violence issues.

Harumi Yamanaka, our “inter-port lecturer” (onboard from Hawaii to Japan) gives evening lectures on Japan 101.

Harumi Yamanaka, our “inter-port lecturer” (onboard from Hawaii to Japan) gives evening lectures on Japan 101.

My classes this week have all discussed Japanese culture…


And tests started this week – teachers sped up the coursework to get a big bulk through before Asia hits. That said, I do have two midterms the day after we leave Singapore, but I have hope in that 24-hour buffer for now!

Then comes the JaPlanning. I think Semester at Sea is a great social experiment: Let’s put 550 strangers on a boat together in the middle of the Pacific, give them two weeks to form alliances, and then unleash them into the entire Asian continent. Which friendships will survive? Which will fall apart? Will the groups make it back to the ship on time… or will they make it at all?

Someone should do a study. Or a reality TV show.

The drama aside, choosing who your friends are going to be on this voyage is an interesting process. While everyone is super friendly, and we all initially want to meet each other, we’re all also analyzing each other to figure out is this a person that I would be okay spending a week in Burma with on our own?  It’s a process that happens any time you start a new school or move to a new place, but here, it’s accelerated, and the stakes are much higher.

While that may sound a little scary, the diversity and overall friendliness of students, opportunities for community involvement, and the close proximity we all share within the ship make it near-impossible not to find a travel buddy or two. I think that a group with two to four people is best for this type of spontaneous, backpacker-type adventure, but I’ve seen some travel groups forming that have 10 people in them – and I silently wish them luck.

How do you decide what to do in country? It’s complicated. If you sign up with SAS field programs, you’re set – they plan all your excursions for you. If you decide to travel independently, however, you plan everything on the ship beforehand – with only two hours of Internet allowed for the entire voyage.

Your travel research options are:

  1. Book everything you want to do in advance, and hope to find people who will join you once you get to the ship.
  2. Use Google and WikiTravel (some of the few permitted 24/7 internet sites) and the library’s travel guides to make your plans.
  3. Plan nothing and be spontaneous.
  4. Email your parents and ask them to book flights/trains/hotels for you.
  5. Make a friend who seems to know what they’re doing.

Most SASers fall into the B and E categories, in my experience, but so far I’ve seen a bit of everything.


SASers thumbing through travel books on the ship’s library. Julia Bolger, on left, is an English and History major from U.Va!

SASers thumbing through travel books on the ship’s library. Julia Bolger, on left, is an English and History major from U.Va!

As for me, I was incredibly lucky to hear from an old family friend who lives in Japan. She has offered me and my friend Grace her place to stay in downtown Tokyo during our first few nights! Stoked, blessed and wondering how I’m going to fit six days of travel needs in my backpack…

Editor’s note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is blogging about her Semester at Sea experience. If you’ve missed her earlier entries, start at the beginning: Ready to Set Sail on Semester At Sea

3 Comments on “Semester at Sea: JaPlanning

  1. Lauren:

    Your Mom has been sharing your blogs with me and I’ve been enjoying reading about your travel adventures. Enjoy the Japanese people and culture. And the cuisine — it’s the best!! Think of your Mom and I slaving away in Warrensburg with a high temperature of 10 today! Have fun!

    Dee Anna

  2. Hi Lauren,
    I have so much enjoyed your blog. There is so much to see and remember, I know you are taking it all in. You are very lucky young lady, however you’ve worked hard to get where you are, & I am very proud of you. I’m still praying for you every day. Love you much,

    Your grandma

  3. JaPlanning….love that word. I’m glad the experience of choosing a traveling buddy as come ease for you, it sounds. This is such a neat program and seems to be such a growing experience. I am thankful UVa provides this opportunity of a lifetime. Picking what to do per country would be difficult for me. I look forward to your future blogs. I also enjoy the pictures. Keep up the good work, Lauren Jones.

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