A woman carrying a large load of fruits on her head on the side of the road wipes her brow. I wonder who she is – how are we similar? The road we are on somehow reminds me of the road that I took on the Grand Teton half marathon last summer. I am all over the place.
We arrive in the Ghana village and are overwhelmed by hundreds of children’s hands, hearts, and the overwhelming heat and humidity that is easily choked upon. The elders, the Queen Mother, the Chief, and the children are kind. There is never a moment that my hand is un-held, my lap never empty.
We are given African names in a traditional naming ceremony. I am given Aba Fameye- Aba means Thursday born; I am told Fameye is a religious name. I am asked several times if I am Christian. This makes me reflect further on life, where I’m going, where I’ve been, and who I am.
The children of the family I will stay with take me on a village tour- fighting back and forth about who gets to hang onto my hand versus my arm, versus lead the way, who gets to take my camera to take a picture, who gets to talk over another to explain that this is their grandfather’s garden, that this is what a cassava plant looks like. We play games in the park, play drums in the church, and dance in the bar for all of 3 minutes. But they love showing me their lives, their people, their normal, and I feel humbled by it.
A heart-to-heart conversation with a student after dinner ensues and reminds me why I’m good at working with students after my waiver and frustration earlier in the day. Doing conduct full time on the ship has made it difficult to remember this as I’m definitely seen in a particular way given that’s all I do. I was reminded several times by our wonderful students on this trip that I do good work, I am appreciated, and that students like me despite my role. That sounds silly. I don’t need to be liked as I realize my job is tough sometimes, but for some reason this last case really got to me, and now I need to remind myself of the good. And there is so much.
We meet in the morning and a child I haven’t seen yet, maybe 4 years old, quietly puts his arm around my chair as I wait for breakfast. He’s just content to be there. Another arrives on the other side. And another from yesterday who reminded me last night that she would “see me tomorrow.” It’s hard to leave, but the smiles and waves and kindness will travel with us. So many of us are reminded of our privilege, others reminded of what is important and why.
We are sweaty, salty, tired, dehydrated, and content. A student tells me she’s never been so physically uncomfortable before, and also never smiled so much. A m a z i n g. That’s what this is about.
The above is an excerpt from my own writing aboard the MV World Odyssey on the Spring 2016 voyage of Semester at Sea.
Sailing around the world with 550 undergraduate students may seem intriguing to some, fun to some, and like downright insanity to others. And when people found out I was going to be the person in charge of all of the student discipline aboard the MV World Odyssey for a semester, more people thought I must be nuts. Others said I would be the “dean of mean. ” And the ones that know me best knew that this was a dream job for a reason.
To be offered the opportunity to not only do the part of my job that I have always loved most- student conduct- full time, but also to get to travel around the world while getting some of the best professional development I could get, was the chance of a lifetime. And so I leapt. I quit my job, took a hiatus from my dissertation, packed up everything I owned into a friend’s basement, and away I went.
I had heard stories about being the Assistant Dean of Student Life on these voyages- really difficult conduct situations from students, and with new, terrifying variables- a different language, new types of alcohol with different alcohol contents, unknown foreign cultures and environments. While there were some difficult cases, especially with all of the extra variables, there was also growth, learning, reflection, and the opportunity to meet and get to know some really incredible students.
It was a ship where we were all international.
All diverse, we came into the experience with different lenses with which to look, engage, and discover. We were not sight-seeing, we were sight-thinking, as our executive dean reminded us at orientation. It was the variety and diversity that made the voyage great. Not only were we traveling around to various cultures in different countries and ports, our ship was the first port of call, and perhaps my favorite.
Student conduct has always been one of my favorite parts of my many different hats in higher education. While I had days of frustration and doubt on the ship, I still feel that way. It was the first time I was a full-time conduct administrator. Though I was busy with new types of violations, those new variables, and everything in between, I grew as a professional and hopefully had a few conversations that helped students to grow.
Student conduct meetings for me have always been an incredible opportunity. They’re an opportunity to meet students where they are in their development, to work through reflection and mistakes and to learn from them to move forward and on from the incident. We are all human- the common thread that ran from country to country- from student to student and from all of the incredible individuals we met and interacted with along the way of this amazing voyage. We all make mistakes; we all have bad days. Hopefully we try and remember our perspective, where we come from, what is to be learned, and what is important.
This post is part of our #SAinternational series. We will hear from #SApros who work in international student related services. We’ll also hear from those those who have had the fortunate opportunity to work overseas or have a global perspective to higher education. For more info, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Alison Scheide on Study Abroad Programs