SEMESTER AT SEA - OVERVIEW

 

Spring 2002 Voyage

 

            Instead of studying abroad in depth in one country, Semester at Sea is a study abroad program in which a semester is spent on a voyage around the world, making comparisons among many countries.  On the voyage on which I taught in Spring Semester of 2002, there were 614 college students, 30 faculty, 36 staff, 44 dependents of faculty and staff, 26 senior adults called "grandparents," and 206 crew, for a total of 956 persons on the small cruise ship, which had a library and a computer center instead of a casino.

            Half of the time the ship was at sea, and the students and faculty were in classes. The other half of the time the ship was in port.  On this voyage, the ports were in Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Mauritius (substituted for Kenya), India, Singapore (substituted for Malaysia), Vietnam, China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), and Japan.  The two Muslim countries Kenya and Malaysia were eliminated due to the recent events of September 11 in 2001.   The ports may vary on each voyage.

            Students took four or five courses of three credits each.  One of the courses was the CORE course, Geography, in which all passengers on the ship participated. It met every day when the ship was not in port. It provided lectures on the geography, history, politics, economics, religions, art, and music of each country visited.  Additional lectures addressed global issues such as globalization, racism, human rights, and gender inequality.  On this voyage, the CORE course was coordinated by a historian and a geographer, with lectures by various faculty members with expertise in specific countries.  Additional lectures were provided by Inter-port Lecturers who sailed with us from the port before their home port. Our fourteen inter-port lecturers included Dennis Brutus, who was imprisoned in South Africa with Nelson Mandela, and the physician Patch Adams.

            The other courses taken by students are selected from about 70 liberal arts courses. The courses are intended to be related to the voyage, so there are strong offerings in the social sciences, humanities, and fine arts.  There are fewer offerings in the natural sciences since there are no laboratories, but on this voyage there were several biology courses (such as marine biology and evolution) and an oceanography course.

            Faculty members typically teach three courses in addition to providing a few lectures in CORE or in Community College.  The latter are lectures and performances in the evening which are not required but which supplement the academic program.  They include music performances, plays, discussions of experiences in port, etc. 

            Except for CORE which meets every day, the courses meet either on A days or on B days, which alternate every day at sea including Saturdays and Sundays. Each class session is 75 minutes and there are 22 class sessions per course plus the final exam period.  The remaining twenty percent of the time for each course is the field component.

            While in port, numerous fieldtrips are offered.  Some of these are Faculty Directed Practica which are especially relevant to specific courses.  For example, the art historian led a tour of Hindu temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. While some of the fieldtrips visit places that tourists would visit (such as the Great Wall of China), the emphasis is on education with background lectures and readings to explain the historical and cultural significance of the sites visited. Many fieldtrips go to places where tourists rarely go, such as orphanages, universities to meet professors and students, and poor communities (such as favelas in Brazil and townships in South Africa).  Students are usually required to analyze their observations for their classes. For example, my son analyzed music performances for his world music class, and my students observed racial, social class, and gender differences in behavior.  In addition, there are many opportunities to travel independently and discover things on one's own.

            While we only spent four or five days in each port, our time in these ports was very intense with powerful emotional reactions.  Instead of just reading about other countries and global issues, we experienced them first hand.  In Cuba we met with Fidel Castro. In Brazil and South Africa we saw the effects of racism and poverty first hand.  We also learned from each other in classes and evening discussions -- while I was viewing Temples in Angkor Wat others visited the killing fields in Phnom Phen.  We realized that we were gaining only a glimpse of each country, but it opened up our eyes to that country.  Moreover, we were able to make comparisons across countries, for example to see the various forms that racism takes in every country.

            In addition to what students learned about each country and about global issues, they also learned a great deal about themselves.  They gained tremendous self-confidence in being about to survive and get around in developing countries. They discovered common humanity in meeting people in diverse life circumstances.  And they questioned their values and priorities in life, contrasting the commercialism of Singapore and Kong Hong with the poverty they saw in many other places.

            I've been very impressed with the students on the voyage.  On the average, they are better prepared students, since less-prepared students are not admitted.  They have contributed greatly to class discussions, and have written insightful observations in their papers.  I have also been very impressed with the faculty, based on hearing their lectures and informal conversations at meals and on fieldtrips.  They are excellent teachers, and many are well known in their fields.  The senior adults have also contributed to the shipboard community, acting as "grandparents" to students, and sharing experiences with everyone.  On the ship, we have created the kind of living and learning community that residential colleges strive to achieve and only partly achieve. I have made friendships on the ship and in port which are very meaningful to me.

            Some faculty think that the voyage is a party cruise.  But I did a survey of the students, and learned that they didn't drink any more alcohol on the voyage than they did the previous semester back at their schools.  The difference was that faculty typically are not aware of how much students drink back at their schools, when they see them returning to the ship from drinking in port.  I also learned that students engaged in less sex on the voyage than back home, viewing shipmates more as sisters and brothers.

            Participation in Semester at Sea has been one of the most significant things that I have experienced in my entire life.  Journals of what I experienced and learned are listed below.

 

SAS1 Cuba

SAS2 Brazil

SAS3 South Africa

SAS4 Mauritius

SAS5 India

SAS6 Singapore

SAS7 Vietnam & Cambodia

SAS8 China

SAS9 Japan