Three students sitting on a large, brink wall. The wall has large text: UC Davis. There is a graphic overlay that reads: Aggies Abroad.
Sophia (middle) with her friends from the Global Engagement Opportunity (GEO) Living-Learning Community taking a picture at the UC Davis sign after being friends for almost three years. (Photo courtesy: Sophia Mares de Juan)

Sophia at Sea: Starting My Journey on Semester at Sea

"Global Aggies: Sophia at Sea" is a blog series chronicling undergrad Sophia Mares de Juan’s journey as she travels, by ship, around the world studying abroad for a semester. Sophia is participating in the Semester at Sea program and will be blogging here throughout the next five months—sharing advice, photos and reflections along the wayRead Sophia's second blog post. Read Sophia's third blog post.
Four students holding a sign that reads "I stand for what I stand on" with the large globe in place of the 'o' within the word 'on'
"My housemates and I (left) went to a climate change march with more than 8,000 people in Brussels, Belgium." (Photo courtesy: Sophia Mares de Juan)

I started my journey at UC Davis not knowing that the way I would see the world would change forever. I remember entering the dorms for the first time. I was carrying so many boxes and showing my parents where I would spend my first year of college. The dorms were small, but I could feel a good energy from the people in the building. There were students from all over the world and others from the U.S. Soon, I realized that when choosing my housing I had selected the option of living at the Global Engagement Opportunity (GEO) Living-Learning Community (LLC); it sounded fancy, but I did not know what it meant exactly.

Little did I know that my experience with the GEO LLC would shape most all of my relationships and opportunities while at UC Davis. This living-learning community opened my eyes to countries that I had never traveled to or heard about before. I met Rony from Lebanon, Ashwin from India, Scotty from Myanmar and Gordon from China—just to name a few. These friendships will stay with me forever as they have for the past three years. The living-learning community was just the beginning of what would become my much larger global learning journey at Davis.  

Thanks to my living-learning dorm community, I learned about the Global Ambassadors Mentorship Program within Global Affairs. When I first came to UC Davis, I was scared of the large lecture halls, biking everywhere and not knowing exactly how to succeed in a class. Thanks to the Global Ambassadors Mentorship Program and my peer mentor from Japan, Ritvi, I was able to get introduced to the large (and, what can be a bit overwhelming) university campus. This program is also where I met another peer mentor, Elisa, from Ecuador. She introduced me to the study abroad program, Semester at Sea. I kept that program name in mind knowing that I would, someday during my time at UC Davis, like to further explore what it would take to participate. But that was for another day; I was only in my first year of college! 

My experience as a Global Ambassador mentee inspired me to become a peer advisor at the UC Davis Global Learning Hub during my second year. I joined the team because I wanted every student at UC Davis to know about the incredible opportunities the university had to offer. I wanted everyone to know that you could have a global experience without going outside of campus. I started my job during the pandemic and I had to learn to be a peer advisor virtually.

After COVID-19 had already been around for a year, Fall 2021 was approaching and we were all expecting to finally have classes in person. At this point in my life, UC Davis had brought the world to me. My next step was to leave Davis and explore the world. I decided to do a UCEAP program in Belgium during the fall quarter of my third year. While everyone was finally coming back to campus, I was starting my journey abroad, doing research at the great University in Belgium, taking classes in French and making connections that I still have with me today. I decided that studying abroad was just the continuation of my global learning experience, but it was not going to end there. 

Four students in the snow. The student in the middle of the frame is holding skis.
"I went to Tahoe to ski for the first time with my friend Ashwin from India, Rony from Lebanon and Temma from Nevada City. There were a lot of falls along the way, but I learned how to stand up!" (Photo courtesy: Sophia Mares de Juan)

After meeting incredible housemates and friends, getting better at my French, having lots of experiences that will build on my professional career, and eating tons of waffles, I came back to Davis to continue my studies. Not long after I got back, I remember sitting in the lobby of the International Center and thinking back on my experience in the Global Ambassador Mentorship program and remembering what Elisa had said about the Semester at Sea study abroad program. With only a bit more time as a UC Davis student, I decided that it was time to learn more about the program and to see if it was possible for me.

Since Semester at Sea is considered an independent study abroad program, this meant I'd need to overcome a few more application hurdles as compared to my experience applying to a UCEAP program. Finding funding sources to go on the program was going to be more challenging and communicating my plans to the university was going to be a long process. I learned quickly that if I was to go on Semester at Sea, I was going to have to take a much bigger leap than any others that I'd taken before. I was scared to go abroad because of the high program cost and I did not have that kind of money; that was not going to stop me from dreaming, however—especially during my last year at UC Davis.

Eight months later, thanks to all the support I received from my advisors, the connections that I built from my other global learning experiences and my hard work, I am happy to tell you that I'm ready to embrace this opportunity and happy to share my ongoing experience in this program with you. That is what this blog series is all about.

If you are a student just like me who might be scared at the thought of studying abroad, but also has the motivation to make it happen, then this will be the blog for you. During the next five months, I will be sharing my experience and the steps that I took to get to Semester at Sea, as well as the reflections and lessons learned along the way. This blog series will be a global learning journey that you will get to experience through my eyes and words. Are you ready?

The Global Aggies Blog is where students have the chance to share their experiences with fellow Aggies considering a global learning program during their time at UC Davis. Submit your Global Aggies Blog profile to be considered for a web and/or social media feature (InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and YouTube).

About the Global Learning Hub at UC Davis

Through the Global Learning Hub, each and every UC Davis student can find global learning opportunities available on campus, in the region, virtually and internationally. The Hub offers global learning programs, workshops and resources that enhance all UC Davis students’ academic and career pursuits through four broad areas of opportunities: Community Engagement; Global Skills and Leadership; Internships and Research; and Study Abroad. UC Davis is committed to preparing the next generation of global problem solvers and change makers. As such, we aim to prepare our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to solve global challenges collaboratively, equitably, and sustainably.

As a part of Global Affairs, the Global Learning Hub aims to inspire global curiosity, understanding, and engagement.

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