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Around the world aboard a study ship

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The Egyptians, apparently upset because the Universe had canceled her stop in Alexandria, delayed our trip through the Suez Canal and raised the price. Capt. Chang Chun-re, normally an even-tempered man, was not pleased. Nor was he amused when a student smuggled a chicken on board and turned it loose on the promenade deck.

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En route to Bombay, many of us went on deck at 5 a.m. for fantastic views of Halley's comet. Colombo was as hot as Bombay, but Sri Lanka's interior was lush with vegetation and crowded with elephants.

A week in Hong Kong included an opportunity to visit the People's Republic of China. Our trip took us to Peking for five days, with a visit to the university and an the opportunity to talk to students. The Great Wall was even ``greater'' than we had imagined, and of course we were impressed with the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace with its marble boat, and our hotel, a two-year-old wonder of modernity. Many such new-style buildings are going up in Peking, a marked contrast to the daily early-morning gatherings of people to perform traditional tai chi exercises in the parks.

A three-day stop in Chilung allowed the Taiwanese crew a reunion with their families and the passengers a chance to view the National Palace Museum, full of mainland treasures, and to stay overnight at the all-marble Taroko Gorge. In South Korea, we spent a morning at an orphanage, where students from the Universe presented the facility with a check for $1,000 earned through charitable activities on board ship.

By the time we reached Kobe, Japan, our last port, the dollar had fallen drastically against the yen and many of us stayed close to the ship. With rail passes bought in Hong Kong, we rode the bullet train to Nagasaki and Hiroshima to pay our respects to the casualties of nuclear war.

The final two-week crossing of the Pacific included stormy seas and a hectic atmosphere in the classroom as students prepared for their final exams. Some didn't pass. Some, unfortunately, didn't care. Several of the older passengers earned credits for their courses, but most attended as auditors.

The experience was one to remember for a lifetime, as the dean suggested.

The food was substantial, sometimes exceptional (prawns, lamb chops, sirloin steaks), and regularly included first-class Chinese dishes. Entertainment on board included special dances (such as pajama parties), movies, and exercise facilities: basketball and volleyball courts, a weight-lifting room, aerobics, table tennis, and jogging. The 11,000-volume library could keep any passenger occupied the entire trip. The gift shop offered a variety of Semester at Sea items and brought aboard specialized gifts from every port.

One Sunday -- the only day without classes but with mandatory lifeboat drill -- a festival of Olympic Games was won by the crew, which, among other things, danced around in a Chinese dragon.

This fall the Universe sails from Seattle headed westward to Fort Lauderdale, with almost the same itinerary. Egypt and Greece will be replaced by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, where the ship will dock in Odessa on the Black Sea. Efforts are being made to invite a group of Soviet students to enroll in the Semester at Sea program, whose goal is to be truly international. On our trip, there were five Canadians and one student each from Brazil, Bermuda, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, and Turkey. The Americans represented 146 institutions of higher learning, from Harvard University in the East to Mills College in the West. Practical information

The cost for students is between $8,500 and $11,000 for the semester, depending upon accommodations. Adults paid $9,550 for outside cabins, double occupancy. All cabins enjoyed private facilities. Land excursions were additional, but reasonable.

For more information about Semester at Sea, write to Institute for Shipboard Education, 2E Forbes Quadrangle, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15260; (412) 624-6021. The executive director is John Tymitz.