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Adding Letters

Semester at Sea Students Play Soccer (Football) with Children in Casablanca, Morocco Photo Credit: SAS Student Brian Morris


From our physician, Dr. Phil Sloane, to our esteemed faculty, staff and Lifelong Learners, the Fall 2011 voyage of Semester at Sea is fortunate to have many doctors aboard.  Yet, in her opening address to the shipboard community, Dean of Students Mamta Accapadi chose to quote another doctor, Theodor Seuss Geisel.  You may know him as Dr. Suess:


Boy: “So now I know everything anyone knows.
From beginning to end. From the start to the close.
Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes.”

Zebra: “Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor
When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more!
A letter he never had dreamed of before!…
…In the places I go, there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends.
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”

-          Dr. Seuss On Beyond Zebra 1955 Published by Random House

Not until we had experienced our first port was the wisdom of these words fully appreciated.  With the orientations, classes and pre-port lectures, every effort was made to prepare us as much as possible for our destinations.  It was not difficult to feel totally prepared, to have a plan, and to be “certain” of the outcome.  We knew everything about the customs, the distances between cities, the climate, and we even knew a few words in Arabic.  We were ready.  And then we got there.

While cultural sensitivity and safety can be taught, no class can teach someone how to find those letters beyond our own alphabet.  The only way to learn that lesson is to live it.  The only way to learn it is by making your way through a city you don’t know; or struggling through a menu you can’t read; or realizing that riding a camel is harder than you thought Рfifteen minutes into a four-hour trek.

It is only through meeting people who help you when they don’t need to; finding a food you‚Äôve never heard of but don‚Äôt know how you lived without; or getting lost and ending up somewhere better than your original destination.

Now we know how much we still don’t know.  But now we can appreciate how much more we are going to learn and how many more letters we are going to add to our alphabets.  Those that we used to describe Morocco will not describe Ghana.  The letters I find in Ghana will not be the same as those that Dean Accapadi finds.  Yet when we return home at the end of this journey, we all will have added enough to describe some small part of each of these places.

As we journey on around the world, our mission is clear: add letters.

  • Culture
  • Education
  • Life on Land

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