“Ships can carry more than cargo, they can carry ideas.” –C.Y. Tung, co-founder of the Institute for Shipboard Education
I was at lunch one day with my two grad students in a dining hall when I got the phone call offering me a Resident Director position on Semester at Sea for the Fall of 2013. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I accepted the position and my world changed. Sailing as a Resident Director on Semester at Sea has been one of the most challenging experiences of my professional career as well as one of the most rewarding. To me, it’s Student Affairs on steroids. It is a truly immersive experience.
A voyage feels like a bit of a blur. There are a limited number of staff, limited resources and a limited amount of time. The days are long and the nights can be too. As an RD, I was responsible for my residents. I had a collateral assignment and needed to be available to assist with anything that might come up during the day or night. When an issue comes up in the community, there isn’t time to hem and haw over what the best course of action might be, you have to act or the moment will pass you by. I found that I had to rely on my instincts and jump into situations quickly. Flexibility and willingness to adapt to a new culture was very important to being successful on the ship.
As an #SApro on a land based campus, I was responsible for more students than I could get to know well. In a residence hall or apartment community, the only students that I got to know were misbehaving, struggling, or in conflict. I was able to maintain a professional distance and dictate how many of my interactions went. My students almost always saw me as an administrator first.
While living on the ship, this wasn’t always the case. I was surrounded by the shipboard community 24/7. I interacted with my students all hours of the day. They saw me at my best and at my worst, and vice versa. This type of constant interaction with students and colleagues leads to an amplified connection and growth. Throughout the voyage, I found myself in situations that I normally wouldn’t with students. Whether it be sleeping alongside each other in hammocks on an Amazon Riverboat, performing in a talent show skit with them, or collectively getting a GI infection while trekking though the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, we were in it together.
Throughout the course of the voyage, I learned to embrace connecting with my students at full throttle without any breaks. I found the relationships I built with them to be much more rewarding. Having the opportunity to experience the world with the students through the routine of ship life and once in a lifetime moments in port created meaningful relationships. I got to see their growth up close and personally. It was so rewarding to get to see a student’s worldview expand and help them process what they were experiencing.
Working with students outside of their comfort zones was incredibly transformative. Because of this, the way that I engage with students has forever shifted in a positive way.
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