By Maggie Spring

In April of 2015 I was selected as the first Scripps Howard Foundation Intern from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was among 70 students from across the country to be awarded this scholarship. 

This scholarship program enabled me to take part in a summer internship, while saving for an upcoming semester abroad. I had the opportunity to work as an intern for Persio, a marketing technology company located in Chicago, Illinois. This internship provided me the opportunity to gain sales and marketing experience and work with retail clients such as Express, H&M, and Cartier. Because of the Scripps Howard Foundation, I had the financial support to be able to learn and develop a valuable skillset through an internship without sacrificing the opportunity to study abroad.

This past spring I embarked on a journey around the world through The University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea program. In 102 days I circumnavigated the globe on the MV World Odyssey, sailing 23,659 nautical miles while enrolled in four UVA sponsored classes. I had the opportunity to visit 42 cities, 17 time zones, 13 countries, 4 continents, and sail cross 3 oceans while enrolled in the floating university I learned to call home.

Semester at Sea students enroll in courses that focus on the structural and social changes taking place in the countries visited during voyage. This, paired with the priceless hands-on experience in each of the ports, begins to build the necessary insight to appreciate and understand this complex and interdependent world. This past semester has been the most impactful phase of my academic career. I grew professionally as well personally and will be forever grateful for this experience.  

Semester at Sea taught me to open my mind to the world and say yes to new things. In South Africa some of these “yes-es” included jumping off the highest bungee bridge in the world, cage diving with fifteen great white sharks, and riding an elephant through the mountains of the Eastern Cape. While this port was especially full of adventure, fun, and lots of great food, I found myself noticing my place within the space. I became much more aware of the importance of recognizing my place as a tourist and the assumptions I carried.

One morning while in South Africa, a homeless woman holding a baby approached my friend and me near Long Street. We had just gone shopping at market and had very few rand leftover. The woman was barefoot and looked extremely worn out. She was near tears asking us to buy her something to eat, as she’d spent all of her money on baby diapers. While hesitant at first, as we’d been instructed not to give out money or fall for tourist scams, we went into a convenience store with the woman and bought her a meal. She asked for milk and corn flakes and kept her eyes down, as if she was ashamed to ask for our help. It broke my heart to see someone struggle like this while I have been so fortunate to experience a trip like this.

In Ghana, I continued to find myself “saying yes” and opening my mind to experiencing things that I previously would never have imagined. I spent two days in the Torgorme village in a homestay. I was nervous prior to arriving in the village. I would sleep in a one-room hut with a family and experience a few days of their everyday life.

During my homestay, and in numerous other ports, I worked as Global Grins volunteer. I participated in toothbrush distribution. To the children of the village this was the most exciting thing - to receive their very own, brand new toothbrush. While the intention of the Global Grins program is to promote oral hygiene and prevent associated diseases, I think the best part is the excitement of the children receiving the brushes. The children were grinning ear to ear and holding up their toothbrushes. It was amazing to see the children so happy, despite having so little. The entire experience really puts things into perspective and made me extra thankful for what I’ve been blessed with. I can make a difference, and I intend to-- I will not waste the opportunities I have, and in the future I will continue to give back and continue to show the utmost respect for the people I meet and places I travel.

Semester at Sea has given me a perspective on the world unlike any other study abroad program. It has kicked me out of my comfort zone and taught me to appreciate every second of it. I’ve become even more aware of how much I have and the importance of giving back. This entire experience has opened my eyes to the beauty, compassion, and happiness that still exists on this planet, even if the media shows so little of it today.

These experiences with Persio and Semester at Sea would not have been possible without the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Internship program. I am so thankful for the Scripps Howard Foundation Internship and my experience with Semester at Sea. I look forward to entering into the “real world” with this global perspective, passion for advertising, and desire to make this beautiful world the best place it can be. 

See photos from Maggie's Semester at Sea