After months at sea, Svendsen is glad to be home for Christmas
After spending the holiday season in the middle of the Pacific Ocean last year, far from family and friends, Samantha Svendsen of Staples said she’s looking forward to a white Christmas at home.
“I was so happy when it snowed here a few weeks ago,” Samantha said recently, adding that it had been two years since she had seen snow. “It really doesn’t feel like the holidays without snow,” she said.
However, as much as she might have missed Minnesota in winter, Samantha is extremely grateful for the opportunity she had to “see the world.”
From August of 2015 - June of 2016, Samantha was one of 14 students selected to study onboard the Nordic ship the Sørlandet, home of the international high school, A+World Academy. “I was offered a full-ride scholarship,” Samantha said.
Now a senior at Staples-Motley High School, Samantha was 16 years old when she left familiar territory, carrying a blank journal she would fill with numerous stories and observations along the way.
“We sailed from Norway to Hong Kong in 10-and-a-half months,” Samantha shared, adding that their journey took them through parts of Europe, Central and South America, the Panama Canal, Fiji Island, Australia and up into Asia. “I spent about four months in the Atlantic Ocean and about seven months in the Pacific Ocean,” she said.
“It was really cool; but it was also the hardest experience I’ve ever had,” Samantha shared of her months spent at sea.
“We had eight hours of school a day and then we also had to work eight hours a day,” Samantha shared.
“Last year I went to a Canadian school,” she said, adding that all of her instructors were from Canada. Although she had the usual roster of classes, such as math, English, biology, chemistry and media arts, Samantha said that subjects came to life out at sea. She recalled the day in chemistry class when they spent time looking out of the portholes to watch dolphins. “That was really cool,” she said.
In addition to the 14 students, there were six teachers and 14 professional crew onboard the ship. “There were six countries represented by the students,” Samantha said, mentioning Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sri Lanka and the United States. “Only three of the students were from the United States,” she added. Crew members hailed from the United States, Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Wales, Australia and Poland.
When she signed on to be a part of A+World Academy, Samantha had been told there would be 60 students in her class. “So, we had triple the amount of work than we thought,” she said.
A typical work day entailed duty at the ship’s helm, going on safety rounds and keeping a look out for danger.
“We didn’t get a lot of sleep,” Samantha said, mentioning that it was extremely tiring if you were assigned the overnight shift from 10 p.m. - 6 a.m. The daily gym class was held from 6:15 - 7:30 a.m., which seemed somewhat pointless to Samantha since the students were doing so much physical work everyday anyway.
After months of climbing the mast to help unfurl the sails, Samantha said she “became like a little monkey.” This process included climbing to the highest sail (approximately 135 ft.), unfurling the ropes holding the sails, pushing off the sails and then climbing back down.
“The first time I did this it took me 32 minutes; but by the end of my time there the entire process only took me five minutes,” Samantha said.
She set goals for herself along the way. “I wouldn’t allow myself to fail...I think that got me through the hard times.”
The weather was somewhat of a challenge as well. Samantha noted that it was extremely hot and humid most of the time and they were only allowed to shower every other day. “You were always sweating and salty,” she said.
“I think one of the hardest parts of this experience was keeping morale high,” she said.
It was also difficult to be away from her family for so long, Samantha said, mentioning her mother, Amy; and older brothers Spencer and Skyler. “I only got to see my mom once during that time,” Samantha said, going on to say that her mom (along with family friends, Brian and Heather Sams and their sons, Iain, Cael and Elijah) flew to Panama for a few days in December of 2015. “That was so much fun,” she said.
“It was really hard to be away from my family during Christmas, because that is such a tradition at our house,” Samantha said.
She recalled Christmas Day onboard the Sørlandet, which was ‘slightly’ different from the way she would have celebrated back home in Staples. “We watched, ‘Elf’ and had gingerbread cookies,” Samantha said. “They also made us a special meal and we all ate together for a change.”
One of the “coolest experiences” she had was during New Year’s Eve, Samantha said. “We were sailing from Panana to the Galapagos Islands and we crossed the equator at exactly 12 midnight. It was really cool,” Samantha said, recalling that some of the crew “dropped the ball” as is traditionally done in New York Times Square.
Samantha enjoyed the opportunity to explore different countries along the way. She recounted a number of incredible experiences, including riding camels in the deserts of Morocco; and sight-seeing in Indonesia where they “toured the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It was really cool.”
Another highlight was her birthday on April 22. “I turned 17 when I was in Australia and went diving that day at the Great Barrier Reef,” Samantha said.
She learned so much during her months enrolled at A+Academy, Samantha said. Through living and working with students from various cultures, as well as spending time in other countries, Samantha said, “It really widened my perspective on so many things. It’s changed how I think about everything.”
In addition, Samantha said she made some life-long friends during her time onboard the Sørlandet. “I met some incredible people,” she said, mentioning one of her best friends, Annie, from Canada.
Next year, Samantha plans to attend Concordia College in Moorhead. “I’d like to major in Environmental Studies and minor in Spanish,” she said.
In the meantime, she’s been enjoying her senior year at SMHS and reconnecting with all of her friends.
Although she loves sailing, Samantha’s content to be inland for awhile...especially at Christmas time, when there is snow on the ground.