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Organizing the Chaos: A Staff Member's Perspective

By: Kristin Luna

I had visions of nautical-minded students mucking decks and hoisting sails the first time I heard of Semester at Sea back in my college days. It wasn’t until my sister sailed as a student in Spring 2010 that I really learned what the program was all about. After visiting her in Cape Town, I was green with envy of her adventures. So I did the next best thing: I came back to the United States and filled out a job application the following week. One year later, I was hired. Four months after that, I was embarking on my own round-the-world voyage.

But our experiences couldn’t be more different. Kari spent her days going to class, studying by the pool and doing P90X on Deck 6, while I am completely immersed in the inner workings of the program, all the pieces it takes to run this well-oiled machine. I’m one of the 31 staff members, those who aren’t faculty but who still work on the academic or administrative side of the program. Many staffers were hired for their backgrounds at universities; the three of us in the Field Office were chosen for our travel panache.

“Organized chaos” is an accurate description of the first two weeks of the voyage back in our department. We had to finalize all overnights, run multiple rounds of sign-ups for day trips, create manifests and rooming lists, cancel trips, communicate with tour operators, dabble in accounting and invoicing, recruit faculty and staff liaisons to man the 300-something trips ISE offers, and learn the ropes via a whole lot of trial and error as we went; our to-do list seemed to grow faster than it shrank. It wasn’t an odd day when we’d spend 16 hours in our cozy little office nook with only breaks for necessities like meals (or Diet Coke runs to the snack bar).

Now, more than a month into our journey, our load has lightened a bit. These days, we work a 9-to-5 schedule, breaking to have dinner with our respective ship “families” or to play an Intramural game with the students, before reconvening hours later for pre-port lectures or Explorer seminars. There’s always something fun going on somewhere on the ship, which means nobody sleeps all that much. Of course, in port, one of the Field Office team has to be at the ship to dispatch departing trips but we’ve worked out an even schedule so none of us are run too ragged.

My fellow Field Office worker Josh summed up the experience quite perfectly: “Life on the ship should be measured in dog years. Each day is the equivalent of one week back on land.” That’s something hard to explain to someone who has never participated in the program before, but it’s such an accurate portrayal of the warped sense of time we all experience aboard the M/V Explorer. No one ever knows what day of the week it is or what time zone we’re currently in, and the best part is: it doesn’t matter.

It’s been an amazing ride so far—and I’m already filling out my application for a future voyage. Because once you’ve been initiated as part of the Semester at Sea family, there’s no going back to a stationary life.


Back on land, Kristin Luna works as a professional travel writer. She also shares her Semester at Sea adventures on her site, Camels & Chocolate.

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