Semester at Sea and Fidel Castro

Castro, Gorbachev & Mother Teresa: Semester at Sea’s Legacy

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As if Semester at Sea weren’t already cool enough, you should look at the roster of all the past and present notables who have sailed the open seas with the program. This past Enrichment Voyage, I was able to meet such acclaimed participants—from Valerie Biden-Owens to Tony Robbins’ son Jairek—but few people have quite as multifaceted a background as the man, the myth, the legend himself: Dr. Lloyd Lewan.

Semester at Sea founder | Camels & Chocolate

What makes this dashing dude from Denver such a fascinating story? Well, not only has Lloyd sailed as executive dean for more than 20 voyages throughout his career—but his history with the organization spans a half century; he was, after all, one of the original founders. (The lovely lady sitting with us above is none other than Betty Waldron, who along with her husband Dr. Milt, has nearly as lengthy a relationship with the program in various roles.)

Semester at Sea | Camels & Chocolate

The first attempt at a floating university was all the way back in 1877, but it failed. In 1926, the “true father of Semester at Sea, James Lowe, believed ships and ideas could be married,” Lloyd recalled, and so Lowe founded the University Travel Associates. Holland America gave the organization an old coal-burning ship called the SS Ryndam, and around 500 students sailed—for seven-and-a-half whole months. Then, the program stopped until 1958 when the University of Seven Seas was established; its first voyage took place in 1963.

Semester at Sea | Camels & Chocolate

The program ran under the auspices of Chapman College, where Lloyd taught. “I was just a so-so college professor. I was so bad, they made me a dean. I was so lousy, they put me at sea!” he joked. (Lloyd is rarely serious, I should note. I only wish I could share a fraction of the seafaring tales he shared at his story hour—they would shock you, I’m sure!) That was in part thanks to his Chapman colleague Dr. M.A. Griffiths, academic vice president of World Campus Afloat, who sent Lloyd to serve as one of the first deans.

Semester at Sea | Camels & Chocolate

The program ran several voyages under the name World Campus Afloat until 1970 when Holland America decided to no longer participate. So C.Y. Tung from Hong Kong, who Lloyd had never even met at the time, stepped in and bought the organization a ship: the Queen Elizabeth I. The QEI burned in a harbor in Hong Kong in 1971, and Tung purchased yet another ship, the Independence, which was renamed the Universe.

Semester at Sea | Camels & ChocolateIn 1975, Chapman decided holding onto the program was too financially risky, so they severed ties. Since neither were working at the time, Dr. John Tymitz and Griffiths opted to form a 501(c)3: the Institute for Shipboard Education.

Semester at Sea | Camels & ChocolateThe program has been through several academic sponsors and a couple of different ships since that time, but in 2004, it found a new home, the University of Virginia, as well as a new ship, the MV Explorer.

Semester at Sea | Camels & Chocolate

Lloyd has made several notable friends throughout his years with Semester at Sea, a few of whom include Fidel Castro, Desmond Tutu (who sits on the ISE board), Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Bill Cosby, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mikhail Gorbachev.

“The genius of Semester at Sea,” Lloyd told the audience, “is the juxtaposition of what the students gain in the classroom and what they experience in port.”

Semester at Sea | Camels & Chocolate

“The dream is alive—it’s alive and well—but most importantly we’ve just scratched the surface,” Lloyd concluded. “The world is interdependent; you cannot remain neutral of that reality.”

Semester at Sea | Camels & Chocolate

Dr. Lloyd Lewan provided me with all of these archived images when I was the Communications Coordinator for Enrichment Voyages this past May. 
  • August 29, 2012

    Wow, what a voyage to keep this idea and magnificent dream alive for so long. Now I want to sail more than ever and really hope I win.

  • August 29, 2012

    Really cool pictures, thanks for sharing them. WOW

  • August 29, 2012

    Exactly four year ago today I boarded the MV Explorer for my voyage of discovery! The ISE is an incredibly organization that has changed the lives of thousands of students. The people who have given their whole careers and lives to the Semester at Sea program are my heros.

    “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Proust

    • August 30, 2012

      It was exactly one year ago on Sunday that I was boarding the ship for the first time (as a participant/staff) myself!

  • September 3, 2012
    Janice Ng

    This takes studying abroad to a whole new level! A semester at sea sounds like a fascinating adventure and I would love to have such an opportunity. It must be extremely rewarding to be part of such an amazing organization.

  • September 3, 2012

    Those are some impressive friends!

    • September 5, 2012

      We tried to meet Castro–do you recall?? =)

  • September 4, 2012

    Thanks for this. Great info…love how SAS got started!! So fitting for their awesome program.

    • September 5, 2012

      Maybe you’ll have to sail one day and experience it for yourself! (Pick next spring and go with me, pretty please?)

  • September 11, 2012

    That’s the perfect example of combining work and pleasure. Loyd’s life must have been a big adventure…a man living his dream.

  • September 19, 2012

    This sounds like such an amazing experience! I didn’t realize so many students took place each semester until I saw that photo. That’s a full ship!

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