Semester at sea: techno-logic

Joan O’Leary | Contributor | The USD Vista

Using rather than abusing the many advantages of modern technology has been a delicate balance for me during my abroad experience.


Throughout my time on Semester at Sea thus far, I have made a mental note of the ways that technology has both helped and hindered my experience. I hope to provide some insight about how to use it to your advantage, while also staying mindful that it doesn’t take over a period of time meant for experience and reflection.


With today’s heavy reliance on smartphones as a means of getting information, it can be shocking not to have easy to access to a cell phone. With our somewhat obsessive use of phones, it’s hard to forget about the constant wealth of information we call the internet once you leave your beloved data plan behind. People tend to rely on smartphones for many things ranging from directions to restaurant reviews to simple communication with friends.


While abroad, you will be almost excessively dependent on Wi-Fi unless you get an international phone plan. In my experience, Wi-Fi can be very hit or miss depending on where you are abroad. Whether it’s a restaurant or bus station that you’re trying to connect to, not necessarily a different country, sometimes Wi-Fi is intermittent.


I recommend a few applications for preparing for Wi-Fi deprivation: Stay, WhatsApp, Viber, and GlobeConvert.


Stay is definitely a lifesaver. This application gives you access to city maps and tracks your location without using any data. Stay also provides a list of hostels and Airbnbs in your area. If you are visiting any historical sites, it will also give you information about where you are. This came in handy for me when I visited places like the Acropolis in Athens without being on an official tour.


WhatsApp and Viber can be helpful when you find yourself connected to very slow or unreliable Wi-Fi. These applications make it easier to send pictures and text messages, and they are usually more reliable for video chatting than FaceTime. Keep in mind, some of these applications, like WhatsApp, require a text message confirmation, so make sure to download them in the United States before you take off.


For anyone traveling on future Semester at Sea voyages, or planning on doing some extra traveling while abroad, it is vital to download a currency conversion application. An app such as GlobeConvert will help you to go back and forth with your money in each of the country’s currency systems you visit. This will allow you to keep track of how much money you are spending and if 700 Kuna is actually a good deal for a loaf of bread in Croatia. Hint: it is.


These applications are great ways of using technology to heighten your experience abroad, making traveling easier, safer, and more economically efficient. There are aspects of technology to be wary of when you finally do enter another country.


It’s awesome that it is now very easy to take high quality pictures and selfies at all of the places you are able to visit. There are a few things to keep in mind when you whip out your iPhone in the Sistine Chapel.


First thing to keep in mind, don’t whip out your iPhone in the Sistine Chapel. Be mindful of the fact that you are a visitor in a church, and respect the rules put in place at the places you visit. This is especially important when visiting religious and historical sites to avoid offending anyone.


While speaking of photo-etiquette, a few notes for my fellow picture-taking, blog-making, selfie-obsessed snapchatters: there is a difference between capturing the moment and ruining the moment. This specifically resonated with me when I was watching the sunset in the village of Oia in Santorini, Greece. I had walked a long way to see the sunset from this village, and I was enthusiastic to watch a Grecian sunset.


I had the ineffable experience of being able to see the setting sun while sitting on the rooftop of a traditional Greek cliffside house. However, when I looked around, I noticed that everyone was taking pictures, selfies and videos the entire time. I realized that they were missing the sunset entirely.


It doesn’t look nearly as spectacular through a camera lens. I was guilty of taking pictures as well, but, after looking around, I made a point to stop myself.


Don’t miss the sunsets while you are abroad. Instead, use applications like Stay to get you to where you need to be, so you can put away your phone, disconnect and enjoy the many wonders the world has to offer.