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Student spotlight: Julie Zhu

Student spotlight: Julie Zhu

by Public Relations | March 11, 2024

LATROBE, PA — It’s hard to walk from one end of the Saint Vincent College campus to another without bumping into business economics and international business student Julie Zhu. She’s frequently spotted taking notes in a classroom, studying in the stacks, attending a meeting of the Women in Business cub, running a tutoring session, doing a work-study shift in the dean’s office or proctoring a handful of younger students in Gerard Hall.

“Julie is everywhere,” said Dr. Michael Urick, dean of the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics and Government. “Her visibility is impressive, especially given how much she likes to travel.”

Zhu, C 24, has gone on McKenna School-sponsored trips to New York City and Germany. But it wasn’t until Fall 2023, when she participated in the Semester at Sea program, that Zhu changed the way she thinks about traveling.Julie Zhu in Santorini, Greece, during her semester at sea.

“It definitely opened my eyes,” Zhu said. “I used to think traveling [meant] going to different places just to see new things. After this trip, I realize traveling is more about meeting people and seeing where they live, how they live their everyday lives and why they do it.”

Zhu was among a group of 473 students and 65 faculty who spent 105 days traveling on the World Odyssey, a cruise ship that was launched in 1998 as the MS Deutschland. The journey from Belgium to Thailand included stops—sometimes for only a day or two, sometimes for a week—in Spain, Gibraltar, Greece, the Canary Islands, South Africa, Malaysia and Vietnam.

An earthquake and political tensions forced stops to be canceled in Morocco, Jordan, Dubai and India, and new stops were added. In each port of call, students were responsible for finding places to stay and transportation outside the ship. That became especially challenging when there were last-minute changes to the itinerary. “I learned you have to be flexible,” Zhu said. “It helped me grow as a person because it taught me to be able to go with the flow, adapt and be okay with things changing sometimes.”

What was her favorite stop? “I really liked Barcelona and Vietnam … oh, and especially Greece,” Zhu said, grinning. In Barcelona, Spain, she met up for a couple of days with a recent Saint Vincent graduate who also had done a study abroad program. “It was a little reunion for us, which was great,” she said. “I liked Vietnam because everyone was so welcoming. And I’ve wanted to go to Greece forever. When I finally got there, it did not disappoint.”

Classes were conducted only while the ship was at sea. Much of the students’ daily classwork involved writing and reflecting about what they learned—different cultures, languages, peoples, and ways of life—at the different stops on the voyage.

“It’s definitely not like a regular semester of study,” said Zhu, who took business courses in international marketing and ethics and an English elective course. Every student on the ship was required to take a global study course that dove into the history, climate, politics, culture and economies of each country on the journey.

In addition to the daily classes, there were activities and research seminars for students. “With only four classes, I had a lot of free time,” Zhu said. “I take 18 or 19 credits a semester at Saint Vincent, so it was really a big change for me to have so much free time. It kind of made me sad.”

Students on the Fall 2023 Semester at Sea pose with flags of the countries represented on their voyage.

Saint Vincent is not affiliated with Semester at Sea, so Zhu had to take a one-semester leave of absence. Working with Jody Marsh, director of SVC’s office of global and community engagement, Zhu was able to transfer nine credits of her Semester at Sea courses to Saint Vincent.

Traveling the world for three months was exciting, but also stressful sometimes due to the new surroundings and schedule changes. Zhu is glad to be back in Latrobe for her final semester before graduation.

“I’m happy to be back in my comfort zone,” Zhu said. “I came back able to [better] appreciate what I do here. When I was on the ship, I really did miss Saint Vincent—the community, the people I see every day and just saying hi when I walk by. I’m a little sad to be graduating and leaving Saint Vincent so soon. But another thing [Semester at Sea] taught me is you should always look forward to new and better things. Even if things don’t turn out exactly the way you like, you still learn something from it. Eventually, you'll look back and appreciate that those things happened.”



PHOTO 1: Julie Zhu in Santorini, Greece, during her semester at sea.

PHOTO 2: Students on the Fall 2023 Semester at Sea pose with flags of the countries represented on their voyage.