Student Profile: Hamza Iqbal – Spending A Semester At Sea



Photo retrieved from Hamza Iqbal's Facebook profile
Photo retrieved from Hamza Iqbal’s Facebook profile


While most of the students in Education City aim to study a semester abroad at their university’s main campus, Hamza Iqbal, a junior at Georgetown University in Qatar, decided to spend a semester at sea, studying and living on what is known as a “floating university.”

Semester At Sea (SAS) is a fully accredited study abroad program, offered in partnership with University of Virginia, which takes students around the world on a 590-foot cruise ship called the MV Explorer.

“Initially, I was ambivalent about the purpose, scope and extent of exposure to foreign countries through this program but researching online really helped me decide in favor of it,” said Iqbal.

Iqbal received a highly competitive International Student Advancement Award scholarship, which is funding his study at SAS. He is enrolled in the Spring 2015 semester that runs from January through April 2015, and is taking courses related to Global Business and Communication.

“It’s actually a very disciplined program. We do not follow days of the week and weekends don’t exist. Classes are jam packed into the schedule along with seminars while we are at sea. There are readings to do and course-related documentaries to watch,” Iqbal said.

The program offers a range of courses, from social sciences and humanities, to languages, religion and more. The courses are taught by visiting faculty members from top US universities and students also have the opportunity to participate in on-board student clubs and organizations.

“Classes are pretty intense and based on discussion, however, it is not unusual for the class to break right in middle of a debate to see dolphins outside the class window,” Iqbal said.

The Spring 2015 semester includes stops at 15 cities in 12 countries including Japan, Burma, Vietnam, South Africa, Singapore where the students aboard will practice hands-on field experience related to their courses.

“The hardest part for me, as a Pakistani passport holder, was to get all the visas required to get onboard the ship. I had initially planned to sail in Fall 2014 but was unable to get all the visas in time and had to defer enrollment,” Iqbal told.

Throughout his last semester at GU-Q, Iqbal was running around Doha trying to get all the 14 visas required for the program. For countries that don’t have their embassies in Doha, Iqbal had to travel to other countries to get the visa stamps.

According to Iqbal, studying through SAS is very exhausting, but immeasurably rewarding.

“We’re fortunate that we move our clocks an hour behind almost every other night as we sail across time zones; it helps us get an extra hour of sleep every night!”

Iqbal recently finished the voyage to Japan and is now headed to China. After docking at several other countries across four continents, the ship will disembark in London on April 29, concluding the Spring 2015 semester.

“This program allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of academic interests. It also gives you a lot of space for introspection, mainly fuelled by the hyperconsciousness of travel,” said Iqbal.


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