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Alumni Spotlight: Author Matthew Iden
Spending a semester sailing around the globe doesn’t just influence how students study and see the world; it also has a major impact on the career choices of voyagers after they disembark. Semester at Sea alumni have pursued careers all over the world thanks to their study abroad experience, and their chosen areas of professional expertise are as diverse as the shipboard community.
That includes former staff members as well. When Matthew Iden accepted a position onboard the MV Explorer for the Spring 2007 Voyage, he was in desperate need of a change.
“At that point, I had been working in IT for about 10-12 years, and while I liked my work with PACT [an international nonprofit focused on combating poverty], I was really looking for a change,” said Iden. “I was very done with my behind the desk existence. So I told my wife, we have to do something or I’m going to rob a bank or do something crazy. I needed to shake things up.”
So Iden applied for a position with Semester at Sea, and while waiting to hear if he could set sail, he and his wife Renee took a trip to South America. When they returned, he got a phone call telling him he got the position onboard and had the opportunity to continue traveling.
“I became the IT Coordinator for the Spring  Semester at Sea Voyage and had my second life-changing trip. My only regret is that I didn’t do Semester at Sea as a student. I tell everybody who will listen, whether they have a kid or they’re a professional staff member like I was, or a faculty member and they teach, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Iden, now a successful author best known for the Marty Singer detective series, was able to use his time onboard the ship as inspiration for his future career as a novelist. He cites his time in China as particularly influential.
“When you walk the streets, the cobblestones of the Forbidden City, it encapsulates everything about Semester at Sea. The whole point is to expose people, students and adults, to different ways of life and thinking instead of coming up with your own ideas which might be very flawed. You get to see where that other party is coming from. I don’t know if I exchanged more than 10 or 20 words with any one Chinese citizen, but seeing the Forbidden City put a lot of things into perspective for me for the better. I think I have a wider perspective after having experienced it.”
The Spring 2007 Voyage was also graced with a visit from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Iden had the opportunity to interact with the South African leader while the ship sailed.
“My only regret is that I didn’t do Semester at Sea as a student. I tell everybody who will listen, whether they have a kid or they’re a professional staff member like I was, or a faculty member and they teach, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
“Here’s this world leader that you’ve only ever heard of in newspapers and news reports, sitting in the lounge with a smoothie checking his email like anybody else. He had a wicked sense of humor. I still remember one of my friends, JP, who was the AV Coordinator, he had worked with the Archbishop on setting up some things, but he had also met him on his own voyage [as a student],” Iden recounted. “The Archbishop remembered him, and almost every morning as we went to our morning meeting, as he passed JP in the hall, the Archbishop would fake a gut punch towards him, which I just found hilarious, that one of the world’s most-renowned peacemakers would fake an uppercut.”
For his latest novel, The Winter Over, Iden drew on his experience traveling to Antarctica right before his Semester at Sea Voyage. His next project, which he is currently working on, will be set in part in Shanghai Tower. Although Iden didn’t travel to Shanghai on his voyage, he says he still finds inspiration from his time sailing around the world with Semester at Sea.
“I try to remind people that every bit of travel you do outside your comfort zone exposes you to experienced people, to culture, to history, to food. There’s no way to really describe the full complement of material that I get. It doesn’t necessarily have to be pinned to a particular place. I grew as a person with every stop along the way in Semester at Sea. It all adds to the full body of who you become and how you think, and in my case, how you write.”
Know of a Semester at Sea Alum who you feel should be profiled? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.