Faculty cruises the cultural waters

Visiting 15 countries in four months might seem like a dream come true to any language and native studies professor. Add a cruise ship, nearly 500 undergraduates, numerous cultural and culinary adventures and you’ve got what just might be the living, learning and teaching experience of a lifetime.

John Morrow, Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast associate professor of Spanish and French, experienced just such a trip last fall semester as a faculty member aboard the MV Explorer, a converted cruise ship that transports college students to cities around the globe as part of a study abroad odyssey sponsored by the University of Virginia.

The first step, Morrow said, was “a rather arduous and demanding application process” that included submitting syllabi for the courses he hoped to teach. Once he was accepted, Morrow received what he called “an enormous amount of training.”

The adventure began in August 2011 when the ship embarked from Boston. From there it visited Canada, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras. The ship refueled in Spain and Singapore but passengers didn’t disembark.

Morrow, who is the author of more than a dozen academic books with topics ranging from Islamic herbal medicine to Amerindian poetry, taught courses on the ship in advanced Spanish conversation, travel literature and Islamic culture. Students on the voyage hailed from around the world, but most were from the United States. In addition to undergraduates and the 30 faculty members and their families, the ship hosted 120 Lifelong Learners, adults who were onboard to study various cultures and share global experiences with other learners.

“While at sea, we were always teaching,” Morrow said. “It’s very, very fast paced. You’re constantly guiding students and teaching classes.”  In addition to his classroom teaching duties, Morrow conducted field trips in several countries. He took a group of students to Morocco’s Hassan II mosque, the second largest mosque in the world. He also guided students on a tour of a mosque in Mauritius, visited Hindu and Buddhist temples and mosques in Georgetown, Malaysia, and led students on a “whirlwind one-day tour” that captured the essence of Costa Rica.

In addition, Morrow and his family took numerous trips on their own, among them a visit to Cape Town, South Africa, which Morrow described as “the most beautiful city we visited,” noting “the scenery was just splendid.”

Vietnam was the nation the family enjoyed the mo the culturalst. “It’s just a beautiful, beautiful country,” Morrow commented. “The people are very kind and nice and the cost of living is so reasonable.” A three-day cruise up the Mekong Delta that included a stay in a floating hotel was the highlight, he said. Sampling exotic kopi luwak coffee and being able to purchase it at a huge discount also made Vietnam a favorite to him.

While in South Africa Morrow had the opportunity to meet Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another high point of the trip.

Morrow recommends Semester at Sea to any student interested in traveling and learning about the world and themselves.

Full-tuition scholarships are available to help defray the costs of the voyage. Credits earned in shipboard courses generally transfer to students’ home colleges and universities.

Morrow conducted a public lecture in February during which he shared some of the amazing photos that he said documented “what can only be described as a life-altering experience and an incredible opportunity.”