North Smithfield student spends a once-in-a-lifetime semester at sea

North Smithfield student spends a once-in-a-lifetime semester at sea

Melayna Prudhomme, a North Smithfield High School graduate and University of Maryland student, takes a flying leap in front of the MV World Odyssey, the ship where she lived and studied for four month as part of a semester at sea.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – For most college students, an ocean journey on a large passenger ship is something to be encountered during spring break, if at all. But for Melayna Prudhomme, a University of Maryland student and North Smithfield High School graduate who recently returned from a semester at sea, the MV World Odyssey was her home for the past four months, the place where she lived, studied and worked on a journey around the world.

In January, Prudhomme embarked on a semester at sea, an academic program run in conjunction with Colorado State University allowing college students on their semester abroad to visit 11 countries and travel three of the world’s oceans, all while taking classes on an adapted cruise ship. Prudhomme said she first became interested in the program in middle school when she watched “The Suite Life On Deck,” a Disney channel sitcom where two brothers attend high school on a ship, and her online research revealed the program actually existed for college students.

“When I finally went to college, I decided I wanted to do a nontraditional study abroad program,” she told The Breeze. “I figured you would never be able to get this opportunity ever again. When will you ever be able to say you lived on a ship and circumnavigated the globe?”

The MV World Odyssey departed San Diego on Jan. 5 with 1,000 passengers, including 535 students along with faculty, crew and “lifelong learners,” older learners who participate in classes and excursions alongside undergraduates. The ship traveled to Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana and Morocco before docking in Portugal, staying in port for about five days at each stop. While at sea, Prudhomme took classes for credit. In port, she traveled extensively through each country with friends she met on the ship.

“The classics were hiking the Great Wall of China, getting to see the Taj Mahal, riding camels through the Sahara Desert, doing things like that, but also just interacting with the local people were some of my favorite stories,” she said. “I didn’t even know Myanmar was a country before I did this, but it turned out to be people’s favorite port.”

Some of the stops included fieldwork for classes taken on the ship. As a public health science major, Prudhomme enrolled in a global health class comparing public health issues in each of the countryies they visited. In Cape Town South Africa, her class visited an orphanage for children with HIV and learned about nonprofit organizations working to fight the disease’s spread.

“Everything was just really interesting because you learned about it beforehand, and when you got there was when you actually experienced it for yourself,” she said.

The trip included some challenges that she wouldn’t have faced on a traditional study abroad program. Prudhomme needed three visas and a 52-page passport to disembark at all the countries, and packed for weather ranging from winter to 90 degrees and for cultures ranging from easygoing to very conservative. On ship, students had limited internet and phone service and resorted to sticking Post-it notes on each other’s doors to make plans.

“No one’s on their phones. You actually have to talk to people on the ship and hang out face to face. It’s kind of refreshing,” she said.

While the program isn’t cheap, with a semester’s tuition, room and board costing as much as $31,000, Prudhomme said that, like with any university program, students can apply for scholarships and financial aid and have work study jobs on board, like her job at the Student Life Office. And, as the program’s website points out, the ship’s schedule offers a unique return on investment compared with a traditional study abroad progra.

While Prudhomme is headed back to Maryland for the summer and handling the reverse culture shock that comes with being back in the U.S., she said she would recommend any student looking at this or other study abroad programs to research their options and take the risk of putting themselves in a new educational environment. She, meanwhile, will be on the lookout for her next big adventure, even if her last one will be difficult to top.

“I was sleeping on a ship and waking up in new countries every week,” she said. “I’ll never do anything like that again in my life. Now I’m like, ok, what’s next? What can I do that’s adventurous and cool again?”

Melayna Prudhomme, a North Smithfield High School graduate and University of Maryland student, prepares to board the MV World Odyssey, the ship where she lived and studied for four months as part of a semester at sea.