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Student Perspective on the Lifelong Learners Program

Summer 2012 Lifelong Learners (L-R) William Thomas, Glenda Catlin, Pat O’Brien, James Podraza, Elaine Podraza, Carolyn Smith, Al Calarco, Patricia Gianulis. Photo by Russ Bryant

Coming on board the MV Explorer for many Semester at Sea students, like myself, find the new experience overwhelming and unfamiliar. From the awkward hellos to the thousands of questions of what to expect from the voyage, students sometimes get lost in the first two days. Whether they are from small or large, private or public, Midwestern or Southerner universities, the classrooms are filled with diverse backgrounds. However, these backgrounds extend further then just from the location of the university or the different majors present. Lifelong Learners are a group of adults, aged 40 years and older, who sail with each voyage and are given the opportunity to join the ship community to relive their college experience.

Today, Lifelong Learners participate in the social and academic community. However, 15 years ago, their presence on board was starkly different. I interviewed Allan Calarco, a passionate, amiable and engaging guy. Calarco was Dean of students in 1995 and 2008, but has now changed positions for this Summer 2012 voyage as the Lifelong Learner’s coordinator. Increased interest in this program has led to some great changes for the entire shipboard community. The main difference Calarco sees is the motivation and drive behind each Lifelong Learner to participate and audit classes, interact with students, and feel part of the shipboard community.

Having heard all of this, I started making my own observations on the program and found many ways Semester at Sea has successfully evolved into a community that fosters relationships among students and Lifelong Learners.

The Lifelong Learners program embodies the motto ‘the act of learning never stops’ by bringing worldly knowledge and first hand experiences to classes. I assumed many students would dismiss the diverse backgrounds of Lifelong Learners. However, this dismissal was overturned when I talked to a peer of mine. She suggested that Lifelong learners provide a different prospective during class discussions which is not provided at her home university. For example, one Lifelong Learner, who is a retired nurse, talked about her first hand experiences with medicine in the History of Medicine class. I was impressed to hear how these connections are being made in the classroom setting. I was lucky enough to sit down with Elaine Podraza who is currently a Lifelong Learner on the summer 2012 voyage and traveled once before with Semester at Sea as a student. In the summer of 2004, Podraza traveled with her daughter around the Pacific Rim taking classes on board the MV Explorer. Podraza and her husband specifically chose this program because it had an “educational experience and was not a typical cruise.” On this voyage, Podraza “is not taking any classes other than Global Studies, [but she still] looks forward to that class as well as informal talks” with students about her background in education.

As we gained momentum towards our first port, the social atmosphere of the shipboard community started to change as people began interacting with classmates outside of the classroom setting. Lifelong Learners said fellow classmates became very open and easy to approach as the voyage started to progress.

The expertise of the Lifelong Learners have led to the regular occurrence of mini seminars, which in my eyes are an extension of the classroom experience. Seminar topics on this voyage range from information about the next port, career path planning, and knowledge of cultural food. On this voyage, the past careers of Lifelong Learners range from lawyers to educators to even IT directors, from posts stationed inside the United States, Europe and even Asia.

I believe the Lifelong Learners will continue to play an integral roll as Semester at Sea gains more worldwide recognition for their ground breaking educational tactics. From my student perspective, these programs are vital to the interconnectedness of the shipboard community.

  • Life at Sea

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