A study abroad program offered for students at The Citadel during the spring semester is more like “study aboard.”
15 Citadel cadets set sail from Charleston last week aboard the Spirit of South Carolina sloop to learn about sailing, international relations, community service and biology of the Caribbean Sea.
If any college students could handle the rigorous four-hour watch schedule, it’s the cadets of the Citadel.
“The Citadel has a very rigorous full-day schedule here on campus where cadets really have a 24-hour schedule,” Citadel at Sea Program Director and professor Donald Sparks said. “Same thing holds up on a ship, whether it be having watch responsibilities for ship safety, navigation, and maintenance.”
In addition to being deckhands on the classic schooner assisting a crew of 12, cadets also have a rigorous academic schedule while visiting ports in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bahamas, Dominican Republic and the Cayman Islands.
“Politics, economics, history and culture of five Caribbean islands,” Sparks said. “They’ll also have a three-hour course on the biology of ecosystems in the Caribbean, a three-hour leadership course, some physical education in sailing, ROTC courses as well.”
“At each one of those ports, besides Puerto Rico of course, they’ll be meeting with embassy people, business leaders, cultural leaders, political leaders and they’ll have assigned readings to do before each port,” Sparks said.
The cadets will be responsible for writing papers while on board and a final term paper once they return to Charleston. Many of their lessons can’t be learned by books or in a classroom.
“It’s all done with teamwork and you literally cannot sail the boat, you can’t lift the sails, you can’t turn the boat without everybody working together,” Interim Executive Director of the Spirit of South Carolina Fletcher Meyers said.
“In a few ports we’ll have a day of service learning,” Sparks said. “We’ll start out in Puerto Rico where they’re desperate for assistance. I know one day is not much but at least it contributes something to helping that island recover from the hurricane of last year. And we’ll be doing that in other ports as well.”
Although Meyers said the mission of the Spirit of South Carolina since it was founded in 2007 has been education through short voyages, this is the first time an institution of higher education will spend an entire semester at sea.
“We know it’s going to be successful,” Sparks said. “We know the cadets are going to love it.”
Director of the Citadel’s Office of Study Abroad, International and Domestic Programs Zane Segle expects the wait list for this experience to be a long one. “They couldn’t believe that they were going to get to set sail for an entire semester throughout the Caribbean and get academic credit for it as well as getting experience on how to be sailors, so they were very excited about it,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of room on the boat but we certainly had a lot of students interested.”
“Our hope is this will provide an opportunity for an incentive for students in the NROTC (Navy ROTC) to want to do this and potentially pull in more students with the opportunity to sail,” said Segle.
The Citadel offers similar programs aboard the Spirit of South Carolina in the summer and fall. “We’re looking forward to making this a permanent part of our curriculum,” Sparks said.
The 140-foot pilot schooner includes a professional captain and crew, bunks for the cadets, and three “heads,” or bathrooms, for the landlubbers. But living in the basic, cramped quarters is nothing to Citadel cadets.
“They’re used to it,” said Sparks, “It’s not a huge shock. I think for a so-called normal college student — sophomore, junior — it’d be pretty much of a shock, but for these guys, they’re kind of used to that spartan living.”
But the spartan living also means disconnecting from social media for the trip.
“This will be an interesting experience for them to see how they cope with divorcing themselves from social media for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks,” Sparks said.
The ship is equipped with a satellite phone for emergencies. The Spirit of South Carolina is scheduled to return to Charleston in April.