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Word of Mouth: Stories About the SAS Experience Bring New Voyagers to the MV Explorer
Semester at Sea derives great benefits from word of mouth.
Students return home with stories about watching the ceremonies along the Ganges River in India, volunteering at an elementary school in Ghana or a serendipitous encounter with a Moroccan family on a train that leads to an invitation to their home for dinner.
These stories resonate with many students who are captivated by the idea of living and learning on a ship that travels to countries around the world. The same holds true for faculty and staff who sail on the MV Explorer. Many of them disembark from one voyage almost ready to board again for the next. And they want their friends and colleagues to experience the same exhilaration and excitement as they did.
On this 50th anniversary voyage, both a faculty member and a student were inspired to sail after hearing stories from Executive Dean Nick Iammarino about his SAS experiences in Spring 1996 and Fall 2009.
Rice University senior Leah Fried heard about how Iammarino hiked in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco during an SAS field trip, and slept under the stars in a Berber village, spending time in a community that most people never get to visit. Faculty member Rimo Berg heard about how faculty and students learn about countries both in the classroom and in port.
It was enough to convince both women that Semester at Sea was an experience not to be missed.
“It really got me fired up. I thought it was a phenomenal description that I got, and I wanted to be part of it.
And the more I read about it, the more excited I was about it,” says Berg, a researcher and teacher with the Norwegian Knowledge Center for the Health Services in Oslo, Norway. She also works with the University of Texas-Houston’s School of Public Health.
Leah initially had doubts about coming on Semester at Sea despite being encouraged by a friend who sailed in Spring 2013. A classmate at Rice suggested she speak to Iammarino, chairman of the university’s kinesiology department. He wore a tie with little boats the day they met and spoke to Leah for two hours with stories of his voyages, showing her online videos about the program from different voyages. His enthusiasm was infectious.
“He was just so excited about it. He made it sound like the greatest thing ever,” Leah recalls. “He made it seem magical.”
Iammarino recalls asking why Leah wouldn’t do SAS. “I told her ‘Leah this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.’ ”
Iammarino is among a large group of SAS devotees happy to speak to anyone who’ll listen about sailing around the world on a floating university. Much of the recruiting that happens for Semester at Sea comes from students, faculty and staff who’ve sailed before, regaling friends of their travels and experiences, or recommending faculty who have that energy and enthusiasm for teaching to and learning from their students.
During Founder’s Week, Semester at Sea celebrates its history and the people who have helped make it successful over these past 50 years: alumni, legacy voyagers, faculty and staff, students, supporters, and believers in a transformative global education.
“Traveling on SAS changed my teaching and writing and gave my work a global perspective that I hadn’t had before the voyages,” says Elaine Leeder, a faculty a faculty member from Sonoma State University, who’s sailed Spring 1992, Spring 1999, and is sail on the Fall 2013 voyage.
The experiences from her voyage inspired Leeder to conduct additional research and to write the textbook The Family in Global Perspective: A Gendered Journey, which she now uses in her classes.
Leeder also has recommended several colleagues to teach on SAS, including Rocky Rohwedder, of Sonoma State (Spring 2007, Fall 2010 & Summer 2014) and Joel Savishinsky of Ithaca College(Spring 1994, Fall 2000, Fall 2010 & Summer 2012).
Iammarino believes it’s a passion for travel, discovery and teaching that attracts faculty to Semester at Sea. He was convinced that Berg was an ideal candidate because she had all of these attributes in addition to international and academic experience, and a positive can-do attitude.
“Every time we’d get together, we’d somehow get on the topic of Semester at Sea and I would say ‘Rimo, this is something you have to do’,” recalls Iammarino.
When he got the nod to serve as Executive Dean for the Fall 2013 he urged Berg to apply for a faculty position. She did and included Iammarino as a reference.
“I really enjoy the teaching,” says Berg. “It’s exciting to be in the classroom and exciting to get the students enthusiastic about the topics. It’s a really rewarding group of students to be working with. So I enjoy that part a lot. And a very close second, if not a tie, is the social aspect of being on the ship and being in such close proximity and interacting so much with other people here. Of course, the travel and seeing new ports is really fun too.”
Leah not only took Iammarino’s advice to sail on the Fall 2013 voyage, but she also traveled on the same SAS field trip to the Berber Villages and the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco as Iammarino did in 2009. Like her decision to come on SAS, the trip to the Berber villages was the right move. “It was really great,” says Leah, who will travel with her mother on the SAS Parent trip in South Africa.
“I’ve really enjoyed [the voyage] so far,” she adds. “It’s been a great experience. I’m glad I had that talk with Dr. I.”