In addition to experiencing communities around the world, we have a thriving shipboard community that has a unique culture unto itself. For the most part, the community of students, ship crew, faculty, staff, life-long learners, and family members is quite the inspiring bunch- for those community members who build my character and the characters of others, I will refrain from commenting on them. The Student Life team is just plain outstanding. If you are looking to hire some brilliant generalist professionals with strong affinity area expertise, I highly recommend Thais Bouchereau, Christy Burke, Tracey Dowling, Dave Eng, Cherjanet Lenzy, Katherine Murray, Remi Nagata, Joi Ngo and Katherine Wheatle. When it feels too exhausting to manage (and life for the Student Life team is pretty intense), I always have our 12:00 noon student life staff meeting to remind me of the reasons why I chose this profession. I must add that the Institute of Shipboard Education colleagues on the ship, Myla Edmond and Annie Rappeport, have also been adopted by the student life team- or rather they adopted us.
Even though the predominant community on the ship is the student community, we have a strong family environment that makes the ship a very special place. Saaya is the youngest person on the ship (there are two other kids a few months older than her), and there are a total of 24 dependent children on the ship. So, when the university students are in class, Saaya “goes to school” with her teacher, the amazing Jane DeGeorge. Ms. Jane (we don’t have Saaya call her ‘aunty’ so as to maintain the teacher presence) is AWESOME. She continues to expand Saaya’s imagination by creating a space where Saaya can be curious, adventuresome, and unabashedly inquisitive. Ms. Jane is patient, and has a gift of keeping the joy of learning in Saaya’s world.
When our voyage first began, there was an intensity that came from learning our roles on the ship, as well as bringing alive the infrastructure that was thoughtfully presented to us during our orientation experience. We had to do that, while navigating seasickness, and a whole series of adjustments. While many students compare Semester at Sea to “freshman year all over again,” I would say this is true for all participants of the program, not only students. We all had to build community. We all had to learn resources. We all had to learn a brand new methodology of doing, being, and learning on the ship.
So, for the first week- literally- I did not see the ocean once. I hadn’t even stepped outside. The work was non-stop. I rarely saw my family, except for Saaya’s naptime, and bedtime, and this took a toll on my spirit. With the reminder of many friends and colleagues, I learned to develop a system that incorporated well-being into my schedule. I found time to disappear. I made time to sit on the outside decks and stare at the open ocean. It is by far one of my favorite things to do. Having spent many many hours staring at the ocean, it is interesting to note the subtle changes in the color of the ocean waters as we approach different ports. The water near Morocco was a beautiful turquoise, and the water near Mauritius was aquamarine. I would have never distinguished those colors apart before this trip. The ocean waves have a texture to them- some times they rock, and sometimes they roll. Sometimes they are so calm, I imagine that we are like ants on a floating leaf. At night, it feels like we are going on a ferris wheel, but that is just the illusion created by the undulating movement of the waves.
The ship’s crew was probably the most unanticipated gift of this experience. This crew is amazing. Captain Jeremy leads with a gentle firmness, and yet brings a dry humor that has many of us crying in laughter. Our hotel director, John Knaggs, brings new definition to precision- simply, this man is the reason we all feel at home on the ship. Saaya has become the darling of everyone, especially the crew. The crew have become her aunties and uncles, bringing her chocolates from each port; watching her dance on the Union stage; bringing her favorite cereals to her at breakfast time; and maintaining boundaries so as to not spoil her. There will be a significant crew changeover due to duty rotations when we reach Hong Kong, and I think that she and I will be very devastated. The Indian crew members have talked to her in Hindi, and have really made her feel comfortable in a way that touches my soul.
Aside from the crew, I am fortunate to have yet another outstanding supervisor who teaches me and challenges me in ways that I could have never imagined. Dr. Jill Wright has sailed 8 times! Even when she is anxious about something, she is not anxious. She is a mediator, and she is firm when she needs to be. Another group of colleagues who feel like my soul sisters in the profession are Dr. Kat Murray and Dr. Laurie Casteen. In both of them, I see ways to be my best self, and there are times I feel as if we communicate without even speaking. I admire both of them, and hope I have a chance to sail with them again. I can completely understand now, when I hear SAS alums reference the ship as one of their ‘favorite ports’…
In this ‘port’ I am reminded of the role that I play in creating a welcoming culture and interrupting an unhealthy culture. We all make a difference, and we all have the capacity to shift the dynamics of a culture.