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Sailing with Lifelong Learners

What would it be like to experience Semester at Sea at age 40, 60, or even 90? Fifty-three Lifelong Learners are discovering the answer to that question this semester as they spend their time living and learning with the students on board the MV Explorer. I sat down with Lifelong Learner Coordinators, Deb and Rich Resling from Woodland Park, Colorado, to find out more.

Tori: What is the Lifelong Learner Program and what type of participants does it attract?

Deb: The Lifelong Learner program is an opportunity to become part of the Semester at Sea experience. They may enroll in courses with the students, engage in on board activities, and participate in field experiences in each port. The program tends to attract adventurous travelers who love to learn, enjoy being part of an engaging community, and who are looking for a unique way to experience the world.


Tori: How are students and Lifelong Learners able to interact throughout the voyage?

Deb: One way that students and Lifelong Learners are able to interact is through the Extended Family Program. On this voyage 333 students were placed with about 90 Lifelong Learners, faculty, and staff to form shipboard families of 4 to 6 people. It allows for more of a community feel because the students are able to connect with people other than their peers, and the Lifelong Learners can act as mentors and support systems for these students throughout the voyage. Lifelong Learners are also able to interact with students by auditing classes, participating in panel discussions, and by sharing meals together.

Rich: And they seek out other students to eat with, too, not just the ones in their extended family. So what we start finding is students coming back saying, ‘We met the coolest Lifelong Learner!’ They bring so much experience, so many life skills, and so much knowledge from whatever careers they were in.


Tori: What attracts many of the Lifelong Learner participants to this unique program?

Rich: Lifelong Learners see the Semester at Sea experience as a better immersion program because we stay longer in every port and have unique overland field programs. It’s not the “8 to 4, t-shirt, see the port, get back on again” experience that you find on typical cruises. I call those the “t-shirt cruises.” The Lifelong Learners are attracted to the educational component of Semester at Sea. They like interacting with the professors, engaging with students, and learning about each country from experts along the way.

Deb: Many of our Lifelong Learners have also been inspired to participate on the voyage because they had some kind of personal connection to Semester at Sea either through a friend, child, grandchild, or sibling who sailed in the past. On this voyage we have several participants who have had family members that were part of previous voyages or have sailed as students.  We also had one person on the current voyage who said, “I wanted to do this forty years ago as a student, and I’m here now.”

Rich: We also have a parent on board who sent his son and daughter on previous voyages, and as he kissed them goodbye each time he’d say, “I’m gonna do this someday.” When he checked in as a Lifelong Learner on this voyage he said, “’Someday’ is today.”


Tori: What has made you both so dedicated to the program?

Deb: We first sailed in ’99 and we just fell in love with the Semester at Sea program. We enjoyed it so much that we want everyone to know about the tremendous opportunities available for college students and Lifelong Learners to experience world travel in an academic environment.

Rich: You develop a passion for the program because it’s so heartwarming to see the young people on board really grow from the first port to the last port. My best story is a girl from Pittsburg who got on her first plane ride ever to board the ship in Nassau and sail around the world. And to watch her just absorb every port 110% and come home a confident young woman… She was just amazing. These students are able to see the world from a different perspective.

Deb: Not having children of our own, we thoroughly enjoy being part of the Extended Family Program.

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