Picture this: Every seat in the MV Explorer‚Äôs Union is filled. Students are crowding in and standing at the back of the room, listening intently to the speaker standing in the middle of the stage. With the speaker‚Äôs direction, audience members start moving their hips and arms to the thumping musical beat. Everyone looks absurd, but the smiles and laughter are universal.
The animated leader, Jeffrey Odame-Koranteng, a student of Ashesi University College in Accra, was attempting to teach Ghana‚Äôs latest dance craze ‚ÄúAzanto‚Äù to the Fall 2013 shipboard community. Jeffrey was one of the half dozen interport students who‚Äôve sailed on the MV Explorer. Before long, Jeffrey had reached celebrity status among his new friends.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been great to be here. It‚Äôs a lot like being around people in my university except that here there are many more white faces,‚Äù Jeffrey jokingly told the students gathered in the Union. A senior studying business administration, Jeffrey sailed with the ship from Morocco to Ghana.
Each day, he rushed from informational presentations about Ghana to eating meals with students to being bombarded with questions about his country. Having a peer on board to give a more personal view of Ghana added to the excitement of going to the country for many SASers.
Interport students come to Semester at Sea with a goal to educate students about their countries and, possibly, to help change previously held misconceptions of their country. Interport students join the ship at different points along the voyage, generally at a port directly prior to their home country. The main goal for interport students is to talk to people on the ship and prepare them for the next port while giving them the chance to have a genuine interaction with someone from that country. The Fall 2013 voyage has had the great fortune of having interport students teach for almost of everyone of the countries we have visited.
Saar Jacobs, who attends Leuven Education College in Belgium, shared her sarcastic sense of humor while teaching students the basics of getting around her country during a ‚ÄúBelgium for Dummies‚Äù session on the ship. ‚ÄúBelgium is a Federal Parliamentary Representative Democratic Constitutional Monarchy, she told students. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs not confusing at all, right guys?‚Äù
Just as interport students teach about their countries, they also learn about life on the ship and cultures of the students aboard the ship. For example, Saar joined fellow SASers at an evening Explorer Seminar to ask questions of the ship‚Äôs hotel director, John Knaggs.
‚ÄúWhy is it always so freezing on the ship,‚Äù she asked. Knaggs explained that the ship maintains a cold temperature to avoid and regulate mildew levels.
Sakina Rhattas, a junior at Al Akhawayn University, in Ifran, Morocco, saved many female students from committing cultural blunders by detailing approapriate outfits for Muslim culture and exactly what length skirts should be in urban Casablanca and traditional Fes.
She also provided key information on bargain shopping. ‚ÄúNegotiate everything,‚Äù Sakina insisted during her talk on the bargaining culture of Morocco.
Sakina‚Äôs own impressions also changed by being exposed to the numerous cultures represented by the SAS community. During her brief time in Cadiz, Spain (where she arrived before sailing with the ship to Morocco), she travelled with students Neha Premjee from the University of Chicago and Yukun Zhang from UCLA.
‚ÄúIt was nice since they were from India and China, so I even got to learn a little bit about those cultures too,‚Äù Sakina said.
‚ÄúInterport students have a complete intercultural experience since most of them haven‚Äôt been to the other countries that are represented on the ship,‚Äù said Megan Schuck, the voyage‚Äôs outreach coordinator who oversees interport students. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an eye opening experience for everyone.‚Äù
Interport students participate in all aspects of the voyage experience throughout their stay, including the tradition of celebrating Neptune Day, which South African interport student, Sbongile ‚ÄúBee‚Äù Qhusheka got to experience while sailing from Accra, Ghana to Cape Town.
‚ÄúEveryone is crazy in a good way, they just live and love and enjoy it,‚Äù said Bee, who attends Cape Peninsula University of Technology. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs nice because you get to meet people from different countries and make friends everywhere.‚Äù
The time on board whizzes by and before long it‚Äôs the bittersweet moment when the interport students must return home after immersing themselves in shipboard life.
Even in the short time together, both the voyagers and the interport students part ways with a new appreciation of each other‚Äôs cultures. Students can still be seen trying to master the dance moves to the Ghanaian ‚ÄúAzanto‚Äù, while Jeffrey stays in contact, emailing updates on his application for the Summer 2014 voyage.
Sbongile emails her newfound friends too with plans to visit the U.S. to see them sometime soon. ‚ÄúEvery student here took a chance to actually go around the world and be away from home and that‚Äôs such a huge step,‚Äù she acknowledged. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve learned that you should not focus on yourself when there is a bigger world other than the one you live in.‚Äù