Castaways on the M/V Explorer: My First Semester at Sea Voyage

[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”20872686″]

The thing about living on a ship is that, after two weeks, you finally arrive on land for a couple days of blissful, uninterrupted Internet, and you wonder why Twitter and the blogosphere have gone silent, and it never even occurred to you that it could possibly be an American holiday back home.

(Happy Labor Day, y’all.)(Or, Happy Monday to the rest of you.)

Here’s the honest truth: When I arrived at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in Boston a few weeks back, I didn’t know what to expect out of my new job. I was just thrilled about the prospect of circumnavigating the globe, as well as working in the field of international education for the first time. We’d had a Semester at Sea staff, faculty and families page going for much of the summer, so I’d had a fleeting chance to interact with a few of the people with whom I’d be spending the next four months, but beyond that, I was going into the experience rather blind. Sometimes, I think that’s the best way to do it: There are no expectations, no setting yourself up for disappoint, just pure, unadulterated excitement.

But before the participants even got on board, there was training and orientation to be done. On most voyages, this is all packed into one very busy day and a half; we were lucky in that we got nearly a week to learn the ropes before being thrown into a mosh pit of excited students. After a bit of a travel mess that had SVV and me diverting to Wisconsin once O’Hare shut down just as our connecting flight was beginning its descent—due to thunderstorms no less! lame—we made it to Boston and onto the M/V Explorer around dinnertime on Aug. 20. The first five days of sailing from Boston to Montreal corresponded with the Forum on Global Engagement, so the 100-ish family members would not be the only ones on board; additionally, more than 100 conference-goers and alumni would also be along for the ride.

So imagine my surprise when we checked into the ship to find not just 200, but nearly 1,100 people on board! What I didn’t know is that there was going to be a large alumni party that first night we spent on the ship. SVV and I wandered around a bit aimlessly at first amid a sea of Semester at Sea alums in cocktail attire, the pair of us grimy from a full day of sitting on planes and in airports, until we spotted a familiar face: another Kristin and her husband Brian, both of whom I knew from Facebook (oh, the wonders of social media). They had sailed with Semester at Sea before—and actually got married on the ship back in January—so we glommed onto these two experienced sailors from the start.

Brian is also working as the ship’s IT coordinator, so it’s always nice to be pals with the guy who can be your technological savior (Lord knows I need one) when things go wrong!

The first week was smooth sailing and we maintained a fairly lax schedule before the four months of chaos ahead. We had a leisurely 10:30am start time each day, during which all the staff and faculty would convene for a morning session and breakout groups. This was key to getting to know some of the faculty in particular who I wouldn’t be seeing much of once classes started, and many bonds were created and stories exchanged.

During the afternoons, Josh, Paula and I met with the director of international field programs back in the Charlottesville office, who thankfully came along for the first two weeks to help out and download her wealth of knowledge into each of our somewhat overwhelmed brains. The field office can be tricky terrain to navigate, as there are about 1,372 different things to remember and details to tend to, and I was so relieved that we had her by our side during those initial dark hours.

We also had safety, honor code and medical talks, as well as lifeboat drills, just so we were prepared for anything Mother Nature threw our way.

After five days of being fed as much information as we could possibly hold, we docked in Montreal and the lovely ISE team back in the UVA office returned to their headquarters and let us loose on the shipboard community. (Eek! No pressure!) But first, we all had the afternoon onshore off—our last for nine days until we would arrive in Morocco—to wander about the city in the rain. I took advantage of the opportunity of a girls’ night out in the Old Town and left SVV on the ship, while I went out to dinner with my new co-workers-turned-friends.

The next day was a very long morning and afternoon of checking students in and doing last minute sign-ups for trips, which is what the three of us in the field office do. This was also an excellent opportunity to get to meet each of the students (even though I likely forgot many of the names five minutes later!) before they went their merry ways and got settled into their routines.

Of course, we were all a little concerned when we were scheduled to set sail from Montreal on Friday, Aug. 26. If you recall, this was what the forecast looked like then:

But we did manage to evade Irene (and later Katia) and, instead of being pummeled by rain, enjoyed a dinner on the back deck the first night under the most gorgeous, warm skies on the Atlantic instead.

We not only set sail on time, but early—so early in fact, that before I could even run out on the deck to wave to the parents watching us from below, we were booking it along the St. Lawrence River.

And now I write this from a train in Morocco 16 days into the gig and can say it has been one fantastic, hectic, sometimes nutty and tiresome journey already, and I can’t wait to see what the next 100-something days bring.

Our voyage—don’t you dare make the mistake of calling it a “cruise!”—is the 107th in Semester at Sea’s 48-year history, and the breakdown of participants looks a little something like this:

  • 447 students
  • 71 lifelong learners
  • 31 faculty
  • 36 staff
  • 40-something family members
  • from 42 states
  • hailing from 19 countries
  • representing 198 universities
  • 200 crew
  • a total of 900 people sailing

The whole idea of a floating campus—or “academical village” as it is often referenced—is based on Jeffersonian ideals of interactive learning within a global community. If those comprising our ship are any indication, I’m going to return to Florida in December with an encyclopedia’s worth of new ideas, friends and memories.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
COMMENTS
  • September 5, 2011

    Awesome! I’m enjoying hearing about your new adventure. Bon voyage 🙂

  • September 5, 2011
    Ris

    This looks like such an amazing experience, for both the students and the staff!

  • September 5, 2011

    I really love the in-depth insights you’re giving us! So so cool!

  • September 5, 2011

    Wow, very busy. This is definitely giving you a lot a experiences and much to write about.

  • September 5, 2011

    Fun! It sounds and looks like you’re having a great time.

    Maybe unrelated, but I love the colors of the scarf you’re wearing in some of those photos!

    Also, who are the “life long learners”? Can you sail for a semester as a non-student!?

    • September 5, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes, exactly! Semester at Sea isn’t limited to current undergraduates; anyone else who is not enrolled in college can apply/sign up as a “lifelong learner.” There’s quite the age range–from 30s and 40s up into the late 80s! They have their own activities, but they’re also welcome to audit classes and go on Semester at Sea-sponsored trips in each port, as well.

  • September 5, 2011

    I’m pretty sure that by the end of your voyage I’m going to be in love with the whole idea and signing myself up as a lifelong learner or applying for a job of my own – just the process of getting underway sounds so fun!

    • September 5, 2011
      Kristin

      My mom’s already plotting when she wants me to apply next so she can enroll as a lifelong learner that semester, too!

  • September 5, 2011
    Mister Sister

    My old stomping grounds… JEALOUS.

    • September 5, 2011
      Kristin

      And I get access to Glazer Lounge, too. Doubly jealous?

  • September 5, 2011

    What an adventure! I cannot–I repeat–cannot wait to hear about the rest of it!

  • September 5, 2011

    I love it! This sounds like the start of yet another amazing adventure, and I can’t wait to read more. Bon Voyage!

  • September 5, 2011

    Wait, people who just like learning can come on these voyages? KRISTIN YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME. I’d have come in a heartbeat.

    • September 5, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes! Come! And you can even sail a partial voyage if you can’t come the whole time, so meet you in South Africa in two weeks?! =)

  • September 6, 2011
    JeJe

    Doesn’t sound so hard… bet I could do it. BTW-lovely feet.

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Someone real nice bought me those shoes.

  • September 6, 2011

    Love the picture of the lifejackets – at least you have to have humor about some things?

    Looks like an amazing opportunity.

  • September 6, 2011

    I would love to do something like this, it looks like so much fun!

  • September 6, 2011

    How exciting. I wish I thought to post something to you earlier, but my sister worked on the semester at sea ship 5 years ago and if you have the same kitchen staff (mostly Philippino) you will wonder why they serve fries almost everyday and but serve potato chips with the fish and “chips”. You will get sick of the food on board (buy provisions at stops!). Bring magnets to post items to your room walls! And when in Vietnam buy a standing hammock (they run around $100 in the US and only about $25 in Vietnam) you will not regret it – students were willing to pay big bucks to lay in it during the longer stretches at sea! Best of luck and excited to hear about your adventures!

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      That’s hysterical! I think many of the crew stay the same over the decades; there are two who have been here more than 20 years!

      Thanks for the Vietnam tip–that’s definitely a great one I didn’t know about! Scott ordered some crazy heavy-duty magnets that we’re using to hang everything up we can, and luckily (against my better judgment) he brought an entire suitcase full of snacks that we have already significantly worked our way through in just three weeks!

  • September 6, 2011

    I am just smiling so huge after reading this. SO awesome.

  • September 6, 2011

    Wait a minute. I thought this was going to be a big vacation/ party at sea. You mean you actually have to work!!

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Haha, you also saw Road Rules season 8, too? =)

      Hardly one big vacation–at least on the staff and faculty end–but definitely a lot of fun!

  • September 6, 2011

    Looks really cool! Enjoy a lot!

  • September 6, 2011
    Abi

    Wow, this is going to be quite some story to follow. Glad you escaped from Irene!

  • September 6, 2011

    Oh my goodness, this is so terribly exciting! Love it!!

    xox

  • September 6, 2011

    I was on the Spring 2011 voyage…and all I can say is I am SO JEALOUS! I want to back on the MV like non other! Enjoy the voyage, I’m sure you will learn so much from the students, and the students from you. The field office staff are the best! Get ready for the time of your life!!!

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Kaitlyn! I’m definitely having a blast and look forward to the next 14 weeks we have ahead of us.

  • September 6, 2011

    I love, love, love the whole concept of this adventure you are on. I wish I had known about it 10 years ago, I may have gotten on one and never returned!

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      The good news is that you still can! You and your husband still can go as staff or as lifelong learners. Just food for thought… =)

  • September 7, 2011

    I just can’t get enough of your posts about Semester at Sea! I’m sort of tempted to look into the positions and apply, but knowing that you don’t hear back about jobs until maybe a year later is a little off-putting. But it looks so neat!!

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Sometimes even longer! I was hired relatively late in the game, as far as most SAS jobs are concerned. Right now they’re already filling spots for Fall 2013!

  • September 7, 2011

    I didn’t even know things like this existed! What a great concept…. would love to join one!

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Brilliant, isn’t it? You should come on board! =)

  • September 7, 2011

    Wow – awesome to get the full scoop. I bet you are both on “new information” overload and happy to be well on your way. Can’t wait to keep reading as things unfold.

    • September 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Kent! I’m super behind on all my blog reading due to limited Internet access (and time!) so I also look forward to catching up with you guys wherever you are at the moment (Alaska still maybe?)!

  • September 12, 2011

    Love the pic of you and your hubby — you both look SO happy!!!

  • May 31, 2014

    Very nice place.. This might be on the brink of be quite some story to follow. Glad you at liberty from Irene!

Leave a Comment

GET MY POSTS DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX
+ Sign up and receive your free copy of my eBook