Konnichi-wa, jhola! and hello
Jesse Beck is having one unusual spring semester. The Rough and Ready resident’s present university campus is never at one place. His coursework is taking him around the world.
But, unlike most travelers today, he’s circumnavigating the globe on a ship.
Why? Because Beck is a part of the “Semester at Sea” program administered by the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Shipboard Education. The program is academically sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. For an entire semester, students are at sea on a floating university, except when they’re visiting various countries around the world.
The 24,300-ton ship, called MV Explorer, is equipped with classrooms, an 8,000-volume library, a student union, campus stores, two dining rooms, a swimming pool and a fitness center.
“The ship offers a variety of classes, from Biology to Anthropology to Psychiatry to Acting,” said Beck, a 19-year-old dance and psychology double-major at Chapman University. “I am taking classes that will fulfill my general education requirement … The majority of students on board, however, are majoring in something like International Business.”
Seventy-five courses are now being offered on the Explorer. There are 680 students on board from 260 U.S. colleges and universities, along with 27 faculty members and 33 staff members.
The voyage comprises approximately 55 days at sea and 45 days in port. The countries on the itinerary this spring are Puerto Rico, Brazil, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and Japan.
“From the broad perspective, studying abroad exposes the students to other perspectives and other cultures, different political systems, economic systems,” said Paul Watson, director of enrollment management for the Institute for Shipboard Education. “For some students, the program they choose might provide them with opportunity to learn a second language. It is our belief at the institute that international experience is a vital component of education today because of the global environment we live in.”
For Beck, however, the chance to travel around the world was what primarily drew him to the program.
“I heard about Semester at Sea from some of the students at Chapman University,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to travel but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. One of the students told me about a foreign exchange program that traveled to different countries. I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to see a variety of different countries in a limited amount of time.”
“It was really his idea, initially,” said Skip Beck, Jesse’s father. “He researched it and decided it was really something he wanted to do. I thought it was a chance of a lifetime, so I encouraged him.
The total costs add up to approximately $20,000 to $25,000, Jesse said. This includes approximately $16,000 for tuition, food and accommodation on board, as well as miscellaneous traveling expenses in the different countries, passport fees, and medical shots.
Many students of Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, chair of the department of theater and dance at Chapman University, have been in the Semester at Sea program.
“In my field of theater and dance what I see is that students, once they return, as they begin to create art again, their global experience truly colors their creative expression,” she said. “I think the other thing is it really opens their eyes to the realities of the world. Very often the students themselves have a very sheltered life and when they go to poorer countries, it really helps them appreciate the gifts in their own lives.”
Parker-Jeannette hopes that Jesse ” “an extremely talented dance artist … at the beginning stages of his study as a choreographer” ” will translate his experiences into art.
Jesse has similar intentions too.
“Dance is a passion of mine,” he said. “I am gaining first-hand knowledge of the dance in other cultures. It is my goal then to take away from the country a new understanding and appreciation for these different types of dances. And even though I am away from dancers, I still choreograph dances in my head and never stop listening to music for new inspiration.”
But it’s more than just dance that Jesse is getting a taste of from the different cultures he’s visiting.
In Cape Town, he traveled alone to a hostel in a neighboring town and stayed for three nights. In India he lived for four nights at a village home, arranged by the program. In most cases, the field trips contribute to a project or a paper for some particular class, besides enriching the student on a personal level.
“I imagine,” Jesse said, “that our experience is like bread and we are dipped in the wine of other cultures though only enough to savor what we have been exposed to, but to leave us wanting more.”
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