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Sailing 50 Years Later: The Lifelong Impact of an SAS Voyage

When Ann McNamee signed up for the University of the Seven Seas in 1963, a new study-abroad program sailing to 20 different countries during one semester, she had never left the United States – and she had no idea how much the voyage would impact her life. Fifty years later, Ann has decided to come onboard once again as a lifelong learner, making her the only person to sail on both the inaugural Semester At Sea voyage and the 50th anniversary voyage.

She can recount the days when the women wore dresses and men wore slacks in port, each student room housed three bunk beds, and the ship’s German-prepared menu included a consistent dose of ox tail soup and cabbage. The 1963 voyage was mind-bending, chaotic and eye opening for Ann, and it has deeply changed her ever since. Today, Ann is thrilled to be traveling on this 50th anniversary voyage alongside her husband Bob, and she is once again experiencing the way Semester At Sea can change a life.

 The 1963 Voyage

In October of 1963, 300 college students from across the country boarded the ship in New York City, set to visit 22 ports and 20 countries on their way to Lisbon, Spain. Though she had never traveled far from her home in Oregon, Ann was persuaded to sign up through her uncle, a law professor who would be teaching onboard.

On the ship, Ann took classes in sociology, religion, and a two-hour general area studies course that was a requirement for all students. As with Semester At Sea today, students onboard the first voyage were expected to use their studies to prepare for port, and then evaluate their experiences afterward based on their areas of study.    

The dorm layout in 1963, however, was much different than what voyagers enjoy today. “I don’t think students now would really believe how it was,” Ann said. “There were three sets of bunks in each tiny room, and there were three students in each room, so you’d have the top bunk to store all your stuff. There was one sink in the room, and the bathroom was down the hall – and when you walked into the restroom, there was salt water running through the toilets!”

The program was new, different, and as Ann recounts, wonderfully chaotic. “The port experiences were just fantastic,” she said. “In India, the transportation system was having a strike, and the only way our class could get anywhere was in this police paddy wagon, with bars on the windows, because our professor knew the policemen. So we were going around in these take-people-to-jail cars, handing out oranges!” she laughed. “Especially when we went to Mumbai, the poverty was something I hadn’t experienced; yet we met so many welcoming and wonderful people…India gets under your skin.”

A Life-Changer

When Ann returned back to school in Oregon, she knew that Semester At Sea had changed her perspective ‚Äì but she didn‚Äôt realize how much the experience would impact the rest of her life. “When I went back to school in Oregon, maybe before I would be a little casual about classes, but after Semester At Sea I was so focused. I realized how much people in other countries wanted an education, and they were serious about it‚ĶI had a completely different outlook on education after the trip.‚Äù

As a third grade teacher, Ann incorporated many of the lessons she had learned from her trip around the world into her classroom. When she had trouble teaching her students about how the post office worked, she decided to take on a global perspective – and talk about receiving mail around the world. Ann eventually took a child-around-the-world approach all her teaching. She would show students props that represented different countries, bring in college students and guest speakers to talk about other countries, and prepare foreign food – and the kids loved it. “We would really make that age group expand their thinking.” She also kept up with a friend in Kobe, Japan who eventually became one of her best friends. “I met a college student who was just really wonderful, and she let [my group] stay at her home for three days. We kept in contact, and we met later when she came to the United States to do graduate work,” Ann said. “Then she married an American from New Hampshire, and she said she liked where I lived better in Oregon – so they moved to Oregon. We’ve spent every holiday season together since then, and I’m going to meet her sister in Japan on this [Spring 2014] voyage!” 

In Africa and India, Ann visited orphanages and had an eye opening experience that has, in many ways, affected the course of her life the most. “I saw these babies and situations, and I couldn’t really do anything about them,” she said. This feeling of helplessness and a desire to make life better for others in need led her, later in life, to adopt three children with her husband. She raised them as her own and made sure that her love of exploring the world was included in their upbringing. “The kids and I traveled every summer. We would go places, but nothing too major – though we did live in Nairobi for 2 years. I was always looking for something!” she said.

 Coming Back Onboard

‚ÄúI‚Äôd told [my husband] Bob about it so much, and he was the one who said, ‚Äòlet‚Äôs do it,‚Äô‚Äù Ann said, recounting their decision to sail on the 50thanniversary voyage of Semester At Sea. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm realizing that Semester At Sea affected who I was as a parent, as a spouse, and as a teacher. I don‚Äôt have all the answers, but I know that my husband and I will make some decisions in the next few years that this trip will continue to have an impact on ‚Äì where we live, how we live, where are resources will go,‚Äù she said. “The advice I give to students is to be open to different values and different ways of thinking. Represent yourself and your country well. Be on your best behavior.”

I don’t think the kids really know right now how much of an impact this is going to have on their whole future.

Today, Ann is having a blast traveling the world again. “There is something about being around young people that energizes you and makes you see the world in a different way, and it’s having an impact on us now – we can still be energized from it and learn from it,” she said. “And with our age comes a little bit of wisdom, too!”  

This piece would not have been possible without the help of Jie “Betty” Zheng.

  • Life at Sea

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