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September 20, 2014

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'Profound' Effects of Semester at Sea Broaden Student's Horizons

Cognitive Science Senior Gained Global Perspective While Visiting, Learning about 11 Foreign Countries

Braden Herndon in Yangshuo, China

Braden Herndon travels on a riverboat tour of the Li River near Yangshuo, China, one of the 11 countries he visited during his Semester at Sea.

Cognitive science senior Braden Herndon used to know what he wanted when he graduated from UT Dallas: a career in user experience design, finding ways to enhance how people use and interact with computers.

But after a semester-long study-travel voyage with 650 other college students, he’s not so sure. His global experience visiting 11 foreign countries left him wanting to do something a bit more adventurous, maybe fulfilling a more humanitarian cause like serving in the Peace Corps or teaching English in China or Japan.

It’s an understatement to say that Semester at Sea changed Herndon forever.

“The effects are profound. I don’t think I will grasp them for a long time,” he said. 

The Semester at Sea study abroad program is sponsored by The University of Virginia. Students and faculty live, work and socialize on “floating campuses” for a spring or fall semester.

The program combines a course load of 12 credit hours with field trips and local lectures at each destination port. Courses cover a variety of disciplines that include art, music, religion, politics, environment, health and other aspects of the countries visited.

Braden Herndon snorkels

Herndon snorkels near Port Louis, Mauritius. During Semester at Sea, students take 12 credit hours. They take field trips and attend local lectures at each destination port.

The program also taps resources in the U.S. State Department by having diplomats and consular officials provide a political briefing upon arrival at destinations.  

 “This is a great and competitive program where students travel around the world, exposing themselves to different destinations, cultures and values while pursing academic courses,” said Rodolfo Hernandez, director of the Office of International Education at UT Dallas. “We are delighted Braden participated in this program, which enhanced his international academic curriculum while strengthening his sense of world adventure and global citizenship."

Herndon is the third UT Dallas student who has participated, and the first since 2004.

He learned about the program at a study abroad fair on campus. Herndon found several scholarships through the program to help cover the cost, and patched together the rest by asking his parents for help, taking out a student loan and working a part-time job.

It was worth every penny, he said.

Herndon began his sea voyage last spring in San Diego, heading to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and Spain, before flying home from Barcelona.

Vietnam stands out as "a very simple and organic experience," Herndon said. He and his classmates noticed a celebration gathering of about 50 Vietnamese people and were soon invited to join what turned out to be a family reunion, where the group was playing games and singing together.

“Can you imagine an American family inviting strangers to join their reunion? We have a lot to learn from each other about hospitality. They have a much more ‘us’ than ‘I’ mentality,” Herndon said.

Sitagu International Buddhist Academy

In Myanmar, also known as Burma, Herndon spent a few days at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy in Sagaing, where he practiced meditation and studied principles of Buddhism.

You can read a lot of things about how people are so similar, but when you go to 11 countries in 106 days, you realize it’s the absolute truth.

Braden Herndon,
cognitive science senior

Herndon said his favorite courses aboard the ship were sustainable global entrepreneurship and sociology of education. He liked that the curriculum was integrated with countries the students visited. His education class, for instance, visited a teaching institute in Singapore, and later discussed the practice of placing students as young as 11 into academic discipline tracks.  

“Our discussions were sometimes pretty provocative, and the classes always had a real-life application,” Herndon said.

Students also participated in projects with an SAS partner organization: the Unreasonable Institute, a mentorship-driven acceleration program based in Boulder, Colo., for entrepreneurs tackling social and environmental issues. Students worked on product design with mentors from Microsoft, Nike Foundation and software company SAP.  

Besides taking advantage of the global academic curriculum, Herndon forged friendships with students from around the world who are now just a Facebook post or text message away.

“You can read a lot of things about how people are so similar, but when you go to 11 countries in 106 days, you realize it’s the absolute truth,” he said.

“We all share the same blood,” Herndon said. “It makes me think about war. It puts a face to all the places we see in the news.”

Retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu (center) participated in a skit that gave students advice about their port visit to Cape Town, South Africa. Herndon is on the left.

An unexpected perk came when Desmond Tutu joined the voyage for most of the trip. The Nobel Prize winner and former archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, is a longtime supporter of Semester at Sea, and Tutu mingled with faculty and students while onboard.

“It was intimidating at first,” Herndon said. “But then I just saw how warm, gentle, compassionate and aware he is. For someone who has done as much good for humanity as he has, he lives up to his reputation. He is a very kind soul – just pure benevolence.”

Herndon’s overseas experience has prompted him to apply for a job as chief world explorer at Jauntaroo, a vacation finder company that would send him abroad to blog about vacation sites and participate in humanitarian efforts.

For his application, he prepared a one-minute video about himself and a travelogue piece on Dallas. Among 3,000 candidates, Herndon has made the cut for the top 50. He hopes to gather more “likes” for his travel video before the top five candidates are selected later this month.

Herndon tells other UT Dallas students who are considering a journey abroad that it will open their eyes to the world around them.

“I’m hesitant to call myself a global citizen. I’m more of an apprentice. But I made some of the closest friends of my life,” Herndon said.

Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, robin.russell@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.


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