By: Aretha Linden
Former Clarendon Girls’ High School pupil Mariechen Puchert is excited about an upcoming educational voyage, sailing around the world in 106 days and docking at 16 cities in 12 countries. The 22-year-old East Londoner will become the first South African student to attend the Semester at Sea (SAS) course – also known as the floating university. This course was initiated by the University of Virginia in the United States in 1953.
The objective of the programme is to introduce students to global and comparative studies by focusing on the structural and social changes each day. Puchert, who is doing her fifth year studies in medicine at the University of Stellenbosch was introduced to the programme during her term as chairman of the Student Representative Council (SRC).
In March last year, the SRC received an invitation from SAS to attend an open ship event when they docked in Cape Town.
“At that point I had never heard of the programme, but I was intrigued,” Puchert said.
About 700 undergraduates from countries such as Mexico, Germany, Pakistan, India, Belgium and the UK will be sharing this experience with Puchert on the MV Explorer, a modern passenger ship, that circumnavigates the globe twice each year.
“Although I am passionate about my country, I am also acutely aware of living in a global society. I believe in the importance of working together with other countries to solve current issues,” said Puchert.
The 195m ship comes complete with a student union, wireless Internet, a 9000-volume library and many of the amenities found on a land-based campus.
The students will be accompanied by world- class experts, Nobel Prize winners and world leaders who tutor them. One of the tutors whom Puchert is really excited about, is Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
“He has sailed with SAS before and apparently he is quite fond of the course, it will be nerve-wracking to meet such an important global figure and to be able to learn from him,” she said.
The students will be attending class every day of the week and when docking in various countries on their travels, will be involved in field studies or exploring the countries independently.
The classes Puchert will be taking include health promotion and behaviour classes, biomedical ethics, introduction to public health and illness narrative, which is a medical English Literature course.
Puchert also plans to visit the hospitals, clinics and traditional healers in the various countries.
“I am eager to learn more about how countries try and reconcile allopathic and traditional healing, much like our health department is trying to incorporate traditional healers through the Council of Traditional Healers in order to best reach the entire population.”
The ship sails from San Diego on January 9 and reaches its final destination in Barcelona on 25 April.
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