Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Semester at Sea: Bon Voyage

A few years ago the geography department at BYU scheduled a "sabbatical" for me for one semester during the 2014-1015 year. I started to inquire about the possibilities of going back to the BYU Jerusalem Center, but for reasons unknown to me that unfortunately never worked out.  A practical use of my time would have been using a semester off from teaching to finish writing my book on the history of the Mormon Church in Indonesia, but after a rather unpleasant year at BYU (caused mostly by my having to serve on the college rank and status committee) I decided my mental health needed a diversion. During this academic crisis, Marie's brother Jim was accepted to teach history on the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea. I had never heard of this program, but when I looked in to it, it sounded like a perfect thing for me and for my family.

To learn more about Semester at Sea and our specific voyage go to this link:

In spring 2013 I filled out the lengthy application to be a faculty member for the Spring 2015 voyage. Finally on the day after Thanksgiving I had a phone interview with the academic dean for the voyage. Helpful to my case was the fact that I had been to several of the countries on the itinerary (Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, India, and Morocco) that I taught classes (geography of SE Asia, geography of the Middle East, World Geography) and topics (political geography) related to the countries we were to visit, and that I had been a faculty member on a study abroad program (three semesters in Jerusalem). In January of 2014 I was formally offered a position to be a faculty member for the spring 2015 voyage. Interestingly, during this same time period I was short listed for a job at the Singapore Management University. When presented with two options: move to Singapore or sail around the world for four months, Marie and the kids unanimously chose Semester at Sea. I was AOK with that too.

It has been quite a preparation process. Over the past year I have submitted syllabi (World Geography and Political Geography) to the University of Virginia for approval, I have worked with two other faculty to develop a team-taught course on Global Cities. I have figured out on-shore day long field labs for my two geography courses.We have applied for new passports and extra passport pages for me, applied for complicated visas from India and China, updated our vaccinations, winterized and springized our yard, cleaned and prepped our house for house sitters, gathered and bought all the necessary supplies, gathered home-study supplies and materials for the kids, gathered trip specific books and videos to read and watch along the way, planned a post voyage driving tour of Britain and Ireland (which includes tickets to the Manchester United game), and said good by to friends and family.

Between packing on New Year's Day we visited my mom (now entering her second year of a slow decline from lung and kidney cancer) and sister Mary and family and then Marie's parents and six of her nine siblings for a fun and delicious gathering.

We put away our limited (we only put out 7 of our 60 nativities) Christmas decorations the day after Christmas and then spent most all of our remaining days getting ready. We planned to depart on January 2nd right after Sarah's 9:00 am appointment at the DMV to get her driver's license. As is to be expected not everything went as planned. First, Marie dropped me off at 8:00 at the Hertz satellite desk at the Provo Marriott to pick up a Suburban (big enough to hold us and our 15 bags and three boxes) reserved months in advance via Orbitz for our drive to the port of San Diego. I called Hertz a few weeks ago to find out where I was to pick up the car (Orbitz didn't say where). I thought they looked up my order at that point, but apparently not. When I got to the Hertz desk I was told that Orbitz had only forwarded my reservation a few days earlier and by that point there were no suburbans available. My only option was a just returned Dodge Grand Caravan--that was covered in road salt and was littered with crumbs. I had no choice but to take it.

Poor Will was stuck in the back where 2/3rds of the seat was folded down to make way for all of our bags. Luckily it all fit.

Sarah and I then hurried out to the DMV in Orem only to find out that when she applied for her learners' permit that a negligent clerk had failed to make a copy of Sarah's Social Security card. We returned home to get it and then Marie took Sarah back to Orem to finally get her license. At long last we were ready to leave at 11:15. It was smooth sailing to Vegas, but then holiday traffic brought us to a near stand still between Vegas and Prim. A car fire then slowed traffic outside of Baker. It has been a few years since I have driven 1-15 to So California. I was amazed at the amount of traffic. I found it curious that there are still only two lanes of traffic each way between Vegas and Barstow. Also amazing was the amount of drivers who chose to always drive in the left lane which forced many drivers to pass on the right and the far right slow truck lane. Aarrgh! Twelve hours later we tiredly arrived at Marie's sister's house in Irvine. 

Next day, we headed to Disneyland where we used our Disney Credit Card reward points to pay entirely for a fun, brisk day. We have never been to Disneyland during the holidays so it was fun to see all of the decorations and the holiday themed attractions. 

It's a Small World was one of the main Christmas themed attractions. Even the song was changed to a Jingle Bells--Deck the Halls--Its a Small World mash up. Very catchy.

Interestingly there was no English language wishing of Merry Christmas (sad it has come to this), but the Dutch, Spanish and Hawaiian versions of Merry Christmas were displayed (perhaps others but I didn't see them). Music piped throughout the park also included occasional religious Christmas song--quite a contrast from the Nightmare before Christmas themed Haunted Mansion.

These travel/adventuresome themes from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride seemed appropriate for the begining of our around the world adventure.

The Jungle Cruise was decorated as if a cargo plane had crashed scattering its shipment of Christmas decorations for the enjoyment of the animals.

Floating fruit cakes for the hippos to enjoy ("I don't know about you, but all of these fruit cake puns are getting rather stale")

Piranha eaten presents

Delicious lunch at the Orleans Cafe. It is so nice to visit Disneyland and not have to worry about finding chicken nuggets and french fries for our kids to eat.

Joel and Will enjoyed Monte Cristo sandwiches and a bowl of gumbo. We all loved the Mickey shaped beignets

I didn't get sick on the tea cups, but the rocking on Star Tours made me a little queezy. None of us have ever been on a cruise so it wil be interesting to see if sea sickness will be a problem.

We ended the happy day with a first time visit for all of us to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Sarah's choice) and then watching the amazing fireworks display which ended with falling disneyesque snow.

Sunday we went to sacrament meeting at 9:00 with Aunt Martha. Her ward meets in the chapel next to the Newport Beach Temple--very nice with its unique mission (as in Catholic missions) style architecture. We then took a tour of the amazing art work (donated by affluent ward members)  hung throughout the halls of the chapel. One photo was of early saints embarking at the wharves of Liverpool--a place we plan to visit at the end of our voyage. Delicious fish tacos for lunch and then we rescued the ox in the mire by shopping for things we accidentally left at home or have now realized we needed. Uncle Jeff taught the boys and me a fun German lawn game--Kubb. That evening while beginning this blog (and while Aunt Martha introduced the rest of the family to Storage Wars) I attempted to upload some photos from my i-phone. In doing so I some how deleted all of my photos and contacts and interlinked mine and Sarah's i-phones. It was a technological disaster. I spent a few hours trying, with the help of Jeff and then with an Apple on-line chat agent, with no success to rescue the lost data and to make it all good again. I went to bed with a sick feeling, worried about how we were going to manage all of our devices on the journey.

This morning we packed up and headed south to San Diego. First stop was a mall with an Apple store. There we spent 90 minutes with a very nice and helpful specialist who unlinked all of our devices, got everyone set up with there own apple accounts, linked them all together in a family sharing plan and reestablished i-phone access to my e-mail. al-hamdulilah! There was lots of typing of passwords and opening of new accounts. We finished up at 12:30. We were to board the MV Explorer between noon and 1:30. By the time we unloaded our 18 bags and three boxes, returned the rental car to the airport, hauled everything through a a long boarding hall with Airport like security checks, we barely had time to eat a quick sandwich and then hurry to 2:00 orientation. Internet access is limited and slow. There are on-board communication and e-mail systems to learn and link. New ways of connecting with students. Paperless ways to teach. It all seems a bit overwhelming, but I think we will get it figured out. We then enjoyed dinner followed by a faculty and families reception. There are 22 other children on board. Sarah is the oldest. Afterwards we walked down to Seaport Village for some Ben and Jerry's ice cream to celebrate Marie's birthday. I'm not sure the hustle and worries of the day were much of a way to spend a birthday.

The MV explorer taken from  my shuttle from the airport.

The parent room

We are now all safely settled in our three cabins. Sarah is sharing a cabin with a nice girl from Logan Utah! She attends Logan High and knows of my brother Bill--the English teacher. Her mother (from New Zealand) is the drama teacher on board and Sarah is scheduled to audit her world performance class. The father told me that he served with my dad on the Capital Arts Alliance in Logan. Their cabin is right next to ours. It's a small world. We look forward to meeting many other nice and interesting people.

Planning, preparing and anticipating for this adventure has been a long process. I think it will be a grand adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Chad, I enjoyed reading your blog entry. It will be fun following you and your family on what I'm sure will be the adventure of a lifetime. Only wish you itinerary were going to bring you to Taiwan! All the best, my friend. Bob DeWitt