When Professors John and Faye Serio joined their first Semester at Sea voyage in Spring 2005, they knew they’d visit places they’d never been, and they eagerly anticipated both the joy and the challenges that can come with global travel. Though that first voyage—now nicknamed “The Wave”—ended up teaching the Serios more than they could have ever anticipated: through collective challenge, SASers always learn to adapt, adjust, and grow together.
Within the first ten days of setting sail, while on its way to South Korea, the Spring 2005 Voyage hit particularly turbulent, stormy seas. Amidst 30- to 40-foot waves pulsing against the MV Explorer, one wave crashed down on the bridge, breaking a window, damaging electrical and navigational equipment, and sending immediate shock waves through the community. The wave damaged three of the ship’s four engines.
The ship made its way to Honolulu and anchored for repairs before moving on. Meanwhile, the ISE team went into high gear, flying voyagers to Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong and Vietnam. It was nearly a month before voyagers were able to meet back up with the repaired ship and continue the voyage. While challenging, Faye said it was, in a word, “‘Amazing.’ Because of ‘The Wave,’ we ended up creating lifelong bonds with faculty, students, and Lifelong Learners on the ship because we went through that experience together. We found that the students were even more excited, enthusiastic, and curious afterward, and we were so impressed by how brave everyone was throughout the ordeal.”
After their first voyage, John and Faye were hooked on the “Semester at Sea Spirit.” They would go on to sail four more SAS voyages together—John as a professor of literature and Faye as a professor of the fine arts (specializing in photography and digital arts). Through their numerous voyages in Spring 2005, Spring 2009, Fall 2012, Spring 2014, and Fall 2016, the Serios have now visited 37 countries. Through SAS, they have experienced seeing “snowing cherry blossoms” in Japan and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, eating camel meatballs in Morocco, and exploring the ancient temples of Myanmar, among countless other memories. The Serios can also forever boast that they are not only SAS Shellbacks—they are also “Emerald Shellbacks,” which means they crossed the equator at 0° longitude/0° latitude on one voyage. “We always like to brag about that,” Faye said.
Besides celebrating the spirit of SAS spirit through all of the traditions, the Serios exemplified the work each faculty member puts into tailoring their syllabi for a given voyage. While John is a specialist in American literature, he always made sure to include works from global authors of the countries each voyage visited so that students could see the ports through the eyes of local authors and also gain a robust understanding of the culture. John noted he “was especially impressed by how well prepared his students were for class discussion, and, given the busy shipboard life, how students always managed to get their writing assignments in on time.” In particular, John said he continues to “treasure many moments when he learned something new from class discussion.”
Faye’s students from drawing and painting courses learned about artists, special mediums, and techniques from each port, while students from photography learned about photojournalists and photographic styles unique to each stop on a given itinerary. In her courses, students’ final projects were visual journals that represented the entire voyage. “It was wonderful to see the creativity, enthusiasm, and effort from each participant, whether from a beginner or advanced student,” Faye said.
Now, 19 years after the Serios’ first voyage, they have seen the program change and grow to become even better. “We’ve noticed the faculty, staff, and students are becoming a lot more diverse, and it’s been refreshing to see that diversity as the program expands,” Faye said. For John, Semester at Sea has evolved to become a program that “truly diminishes barriers and helps students open their eyes. One of the reasons we really believe in the program is because SAS also helps students appreciate what they have at home—and it makes them also want to positively impact what needs changing in the world.”
Another aspect of SAS that rings eternally true for the Serios is the idea that SASers make and keep lifelong friendships. In fact, the Serios have made so many SAS friendships that they still visit and travel with alumni of all kinds to this day. This year alone, they’ll travel with or visit fellow SAS alumni in San Diego, Seattle, Mexico, and Scandinavia.
For the Serios, some 19 years after their first SAS voyage together, Semester at Sea continues to live on through their memories and their “extended family” sprinkled across the world. The SAS spirit is always present with these incredible, well-traveled alumni faculty members.