August 2003: It was my third semester of college as an undergrad, and I was starting at a new college. My first class was a speech class at 7-bloody-30 in the freaking morning on a Tuesday. Regardless, as I attempted to be a good student, I showed up early. Problem was, even at 15 minutes early, I was still the only one there.
If any of you vaguely recall 2003, you might remember that, back then, cell phones had one or two main functions: calling and texting. Sure, some came with simple games or ludicrously slow access to the internet, but those were only for the uber-wealthy, and that was most certainly not a group of which I was a member.
As a result, when I showed up, I had nothing to do. Remember those days, when we had nothing to do, and we did . . . nothing? Yeah, neither do I.
As I sat there, doing precisely nothing at way-too-fucking-early in the morning, well before my caffeine kicked in, I got up and started reading the bulletin boards. You know, those cork things in the room with all the pull-tab ads for babysitters and guitarists wanted that are loosely held in place by faded push pins?
Tacked to one of these boards was an ad for something called “Semester at Sea,” which sounded absolutely surreal. Getting on a cruise ship and sailing around the world to 11-13 countries, earning college credit and seeing the globe? Nah, too good to be true, I thought to myself groggily, I’ve got a wife, kids, and no less than 3-4 part-time jobs to manage to keep our family fed and housed.
Never. Gonna. Happen. Opportunities like that weren’t meant for people like me: people from the ‘hood’ or people who raise their families in a single-wide trailer in the middle of bumfuck Idaho.
Fast-forward about 14 years . . .
By 2017, I was a full-time associate professor of communication at the very same college where I took that class, often teaching in that very same room and occasionally glancing at that very same poster, though I suspect it has been updated and replaced a few times since the first time I had seen it. I also taught online courses for several other institutions, including occasional graduate courses for another of my alma maters, Gonzaga University.
During one fateful semester, an online grad student of mine introduced herself as an alumnus of Semester at Sea and then went on to gush about how much the experience changed her life. Of course, my knee-jerk reaction was jealousy as I thought back to that nagging little voice in the back of my head that always reassured me I wasn’t deserving enough for such niceties. However, I stuffed that down as I responded by telling her about how I’d always wanted to do that but never felt like I could make it happen.
Her response: “Oh, then you should totally apply to teach for them sometime!”
I replied with: “I didn’t even know that was a thing! Don’t they have their own faculty?”
She then went on to inform me that, sure, they have a set of core faculty, but that the majority of their professors for each voyage apply from many other colleges and universities around the world.
That’s when the first of many ‘clicks’ hit me: After teaching my full-time gig for almost a decade, I was due for a sabbatical, seeing as how I’m eligible to apply for one every seven years, and I had never done so. I asked myself, what if? What if I applied and actually got the job? What if I applied for the sabbatical and actually got it approved? What if I could take my family with me on the opportunity of a lifetime?
I went home that day and told Stacie and the kids about it. We treated it the same we we dream about winning the Powerball on that rare occurrence of actually picking up a ticket when the jackpot nears a billion dollars. For about an hour, we dreamed about how glorious it would be to travel the world like that.
So then, I applied. After all, why the fuck not? As Stacie kept saying to me, who the hell am I NOT to believe something like that could happen to me?
For the next 12 months, we would occasionally bring it up in family conversation – the idea of reflecting on the history of a Polish concentration camp; seeing the locales where Game of Thrones was filmed in Croatia; buying spices from the bazaar in Casablanca; eating with villagers in Ghana; exploring the rain forests of Brazil and Ecuador, etc. Each conversation was punctuated by one of my reality checks that usually went like this: “Yeah, that would be incredible, but don’t plan on it. It probably won’t happen, guys.”
Until I got a phone call in August of 2018. It was a pleasant call, from the folks at Colorado State University, the home institution that accredits Semester at Sea, where they told me all about what the voyages are like, what to expect, and what they expect from faculty. At the end of the call, came a question: “So, what do you think? Would you like to come along?”
I was stunned, and not in a hyperbolic sense of the term. I found it incredibly difficult to believe that someone was offering me a job on board a cruise ship to teach what I love to teach for nearly four months while seeing the world with my family, so I asked them to clarify. They giggled a bit at my disbelief, but then reassured me that they were offering me the job.
So, I said yes.
As a result, for fall semester of 2019, my family and I are headed out to serve Semester at Sea. Our itinerary is as follows:
- Iceland: black sand beach, Blue Lagoon, and wildlife viewing
- Norway: brief visit with our dear exchange student’s parents in Bergen
- Poland: Oskar Schindler’s factory and Auschwitz
- Germany: Berlin and Bremerhaven, where we will embark
- Amsterdam: pick up the students for the voyage & visit Anne Frank house
- Poland: visit Gdansk & take intercultural students to KL Stutthof, the last of the concentration camps to be liberated
- Portugal: visit Lisbon & take pop culture students on an ethnomusicology tour of Fado
- Spain: visit Cadiz & see the birthplace of Flamenco
- Croatia: visit Dubrovnik & take interpersonal students on a mindfulness workshop to cathedrals, city walls, and the oceanside
- Morocco: visit Casablanca, see the bazaars (and hopefully camel rides in the desert)
- Ghana: visit Tema & Takoradi, engage with local villagers and take place in a naming ceremony
- Cross the equator and take part in a special ceremony on Neptune Day
- Brazil: visit Salvador, explore the Amazon
- Trinidad & Tobago: go kayaking through the jungle and visit wildlife sanctuary
- Panama: sail through the canal
- Ecuador: visit Guayaquil & tour the Galapagos islands
- Costa Rica: visit Puntarenas, go down a zip line through the jungle, learn local cuisine
- San Diego: Disembark and head back to the PacNW on Christmas Eve.
Starting in August 2019, we will be heading to 15 countries on 4 continents. My children will get an education no school could ever provide, and our family will be taking part in the opportunity of a lifetime, as clichè as that phrase sounds.
And it all started with not having a fucking phone in front of my face, which gave me the ability to notice a flyer on some cork board in the back of a classroom in a community college in northern Idaho.
Keep your eyes up and open, people…
Side note: If you’re so inclined and intrigued by this itinerary, take a moment to subscribe/follow/whatever to this site and my various social channels. I’ll be blogging as much as I can of the trip and vlogging wherever internet speeds will allow.