Monday, August 29, 2011

On the Ship and Crossing the Atlantic

The MV Explorer at night, Montreal Harbor
10:00 pm Mon Aug 29, 2011

Position of the MV Explorer 10:00 pm August 29, 2011
Three days since we left Montreal!  We are now well out onto the North Atlantic, and much to my surprise, the seas have been CALM – much calmer than when we left Boston a week ago.  Yesterday we were in thick fog as we left the Gulf of St. Lawrence and rounded the south coast of Newfoundland to head out into the Atlantic – suffice to say that saw nothing of Newfoundland!  We do have a great GPS system on ship, however, so we are able to track our movements on a large map, that shows the continents, continental shelf, and the sea floor.  It is now VERY DEEP below us!

Pat ready to board the MV Explorer in Boston

We are starting to settle into more of a routine on the ship, now that the students are here and classes are under way.  I thought would use this blog to give more a sense of the ship itself, and life on the ship.  We are sailing on the MV Explorer, built in 2002 and which Semester at Sea bought in 2004 – it was intended to be a cruise ship, but something went wrong with the financing and SAS got it in a bit of a fire sale – a bargain for about $85 million!  (You can get most of the ship info at  

Students studying in the Piano Bar
My "classroom"
The 9000 volume Library

Because it was designed as a cruise ship, some of academic rooms have an “interesting” décor: I teach my Greening Religion class in what was designed to be a cocktail and piano lounge, and the information desk in the Library is a former bar (makes accessing information much more interesting…)

Decks 3 through 7 in the Aft of the MV Explorer; outside dining on Deck 6; Pool on Deck 7

Dan Pat's Cabin, 4077

There are seven levels and six decks on board, with the bulk of the passenger cabins on Decks 3 & 4, more luxury cabins on the upper decks (Pat and I topped out on Deck 4 after spending our first week on Deck 3, but no complaints – our cabin is still very nice. 

Still, some of our more senior colleagues have cabins with private balconies.  We’re inviting ourselves up for evening cocktails…).  

Computer Lab

Faculty & Staff Lounge Deck 7
Dan & Pat prepare for Lifeboat Drill!

The Union: Main Auditorium

Most of the public activities take place on Deck 6 where the Library, Computer Lab, and main teaching room/auditorium are found (the Union), as well as one of the 2 main dining halls.  There is a lovely Lounge in the bow (front) of Deck 7 that is reserved during the day for Faculty and Staff – I spend much of my day there as it is quiet and I can usually get internet access (which we can’t get in our room).  

Students on Decks 6 & 7 Leaving Montreal
Pretty stunning to look up from my work and see the Atlantic Ocean spread before me in every direction.  

Watching the Sunset over the Atlantic from Deck 6

We seem to spend a lot of time eating!  In part because no food is allowed in our cabins, so you have to wait until meal time, in part because we now eat three full meals a day with the rest of the ship.  But the food has been extraordinarily good, and we don’t have to do any shopping, preparation, or clean up – just show up and make our way through the buffet line!  Fortunately there is fresh salad and fruit at every meal, and Pat and I have an informal rule that we have to fill the first half of our plates with salad and fruit BEFORE we get to the entrees and dessert.  Still, we are already noticing the lack of access to regular running, biking, and walks with Lewis.  It is nice to be able to intermingle with students, senior “Lifelong Learners”, staff and families.

Sunset Dinner on Deck 6

When the weather is nice, it’s hard to find space on Deck 6, as everyone flocks outside.  It was particularly nice tonight: after 2 days of fog and clouds, the sun broke through this afternoon and we had a beautiful sunset AND a pod of dolphins playing along in the ship’s wake!  These fleeting moments of spotting whale spouts and diving dolphins make me pinch myself that I am really here.

I’m starting to settle into my teaching schedule of A & B days: I teach Greening Religion in the afternoon on A days, and Globalization, and Nature and Society on B days, as well as attend the Global Studies course required of all students and faculty.  Lots of activities go on in the evenings, so we have to budget our time wisely.  Pat is a Faculty Fellow for the Baltic Sea group (the students are divided into 8 “Seas” in the place of Residence Halls) and we both are “parents” of an “extended family” of 5 students with whom we share a weekly meal.

Much more I could say, but that should suffice for now.  One of the biggest challenges of this first week is that we are losing nearly an hour a day as we travel east 3000 miles to Casablanca – we pass through 5 time zones on this first ocean passage.  We lose another hour tonight, and we’re already a bit sleep deprived, so Buenas Noches for now, and I’ll write soon!

Sunset over the North Atlantic, Monday, August 29, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ready to Sail! The Students Board...

4:00 pm Fri Aug 26, 2011

Lots of Luggage for the next 4 months!
The students have arrived!  Suddenly the ship is vibrating with new energy as roughly 500 college students from over 200 universities and 19 countries have come aboard.  The sun came out in time for their first meal on the ship, and we all sat out on the decks together in anticipation of the next 4 months.

Parents Line the Dock in Montreal Harbor to say Bon Voyage
 Many of their parents have lined the dock, waiting to wave Bon Voyage as we are only one hour away from departure. 

It will be a busy next few days as students go through orientation and we faculty get our classes ready.  I’ll be teaching my Greening Religion class on Sunday and my Globalization, and Nature & Society courses on Monday as we head down the St. Lawrence Sea Way and across the Atlantic.  Let’s hope for relatively calm seas between here and Casablanca!

Endings & Beginnings: Old Montreal and New Students

2:00 pm Fri Aug 26, 2011

The Montreal Skyline from Montreal Harbor

Dan on the Docks at Montreal with the MV Explorer behind

We arrived in Montreal around 7:00 am on Thursday after watching the sun set over Quebec City the night before.  What a contrast Montreal provides from the river: a modern skyscraper-laden skyline with only a hint of the old walled city in the foreground, lining the shore.   

Habitat 67 Public Housing Complex

The dock is near the old city, however, and across the river from the famed (controversial?) Habitat 67 housing units, designed by Moshe Safdie and built for the Montreal Expo in 1967 and used as part of the Olympic Village in 1976.

Our first phase of orientation with the SAS staff has come to an end, and the actual semester is about to start with the students set to board Friday.  

Dan & Pat's Cabin: 4077

We had a full morning of final orientation activities before we could explore the old city, however, and that included being able to move into our new “permanent” cabin: 4077, “Kyklámino,” Greek for I'm not sure what!  

Cabin 4077: World Quilt courtesy of Cousin Jill Hastings!

The cabin is lovely: brightly lit and relatively spacious, with a large window looking out the starboard side (right side facing the bow or forward).  Pat and I have quickly settled in, and have photos of many of you and Montana gracing our walls.

Dan & Pat Head into Montreal; Notre Dame Cathedral in background
By early afternoon we were able to disembark and make our way into “Vieux Montreal”: the old walled city (though not much of the wall remains).

Street performer, Old Montreal
Sidewalk cafes, galleries with Inuit art, street performers, and narrow cobblestoned streets beckoned.  

Municipal Bike System in Montreal

One thing we hadn’t anticipated were the excellent bike paths and a whole system of municipal bikes one can use to get around.

We returned to the ship for supper and to meet the roughly 70 “Life-Long Learners,” senior retired folks, who will be accompanying us and taking some of our classes.  They seem to be a delightful bunch, with lots of energy and enthusiasm for sharing this voyage with nearly 500 college students.

Also on board were nearly 650 parents who boarded the ship for a reception (without their sons and daughters!) and to see what they had committed their resources to for the next 4 months.  Pat and I found ourselves in the somewhat awkward position of being “experts” as we led tours of the MV Explorer – after only 5 days on her we are still finding our way around!

MV Explorer in the Montreal Harbor at night
Financial District at night in Montreal.  Note bike paths!

Then Pat and I headed back into Old Montreal for the rest of the evening, when old buildings and streets are lit up and filled with pedestrian and café patrons.

Vieux Montreal at Night

It really is lovely, and we meandered through the streets sampling real maple ice cream and buying our allotted two litters of wine for the Atlantic Crossing (we are hoping to leave the St. Lawrence and be well into the cross before Hurricane Irene passes through here – expected by Monday!). 

Now we await the arrival of the students tomorrow, and then our departure for Casablanca.  We are getting close!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Into the St. Lawrence Sea Way: Whales and Old Quebec

The North Shore of the St. Lawrence Sea Way

9:00 pm Wed Aug 24, 2011

After 2 days of sailing around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we passed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and into the St. Lawrence Sea Way – and once again saw land!  The waters got calmer and calmer as we made our way upriver and to the southwest, and the shores on both sides began to get closer.  A highlight of the morning was seeing our first whales!  Or, actually, we saw several whale spouts, but we weren’t close enough to see the whales.  But the whale spouts were a thrill, and made me more determined to finally read Moby Dick on this voyage.

Village and Farms northeast of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence Sea Way
Pat reading along the St. Lawrence
As we made our way closer to Quebec City, the thick forests on the shores of the St. Lawrence began to give way to pastoral green farms and small villages with tall church steeples.  The air also began to warm noticeably, from the chilly ocean temperatures we had experienced since leaving Boston, to much warmer, almost muggy air again.  It was thrilling to first see land again on the horizon, and then to see the horizon get progressively closer as the St. Lawrence Sea Way began to narrow into the St. Lawrence River.

The Forum on Global Engagement with its focus on U.S. – China relations came to a close this afternoon with a talk by former Ambassador to China, Stapleton Roy.  It was a fascinating assessment of the current state of U.S.—China relations, and the prospects for how this relationship will change as China continues to emerge as a global and economic power.  Ambassador Roy grew up in China and experienced both World War II and the 1949 Communist Revolution in China as a youth; he also was instrumental in normalizing relations between the U.S. and China in the 1970s, so his experience is long and his perspective shaped by many decades.  It has been a fascinating Forum to prepare us for the trip and our time in China, and is especially helpful to me as I prepare to teach my class on Globalization.

Chateau Frontenac Hotel, Quebec

The second highlight of the day was sailing past Quebec City at dusk.  We had been told that we would pass by Quebec some time around midnight, which had been disappointing as we were all eager to see this famous city perched on steep cliffs where the St. Lawrence narrows into a river.  But our itinerary moved more quickly, and instead we rounded a bend in the river to see the city in the distance around 7:00 pm, and enjoyed about 30 minutes of views just at dusk as the city lights came on and we glided by.  The famous Chateau Frontenac Hotel is especially impressive from the water, and one gets a sense of why this was such a strategic place for the French in their colonization of Quebec.  

Old Quebec as Dusk from the St. Lawrence River

It brought back wonderful memories for me of visiting Quebec with my parents in the early 90s when we had ventured up from New York while I completed my graduate studies at Union Seminary in New York.
Railroad Bridge over St. Lawrence, Quebec City

By morning we should be in Montreal!!  We have a full half-day of orientation activities, and then early afternoon Pat and I will move into our “permanent” cabin.  The students will be boarding on Friday morning, so we should have a chance to visit Old Montreal Thursday afternoon and perhaps again Friday morning before we set sail Friday afternoon to cross the North Atlantic.  Hard to believe that in 3 days I’ll start teaching my 3 classes with a whole new set of students!  This orientation period has been so nice to try to get the rhythm of the ship before we plunge fully into the program – but that will change shortly.  And in a week we’ll be in Morocco!  Stay tuned…

Monday, August 22, 2011

Off to Sea!

Pat and Dan on the MV Explore as it leaves Boston
Boston Skyline & Wharf

We are on the High Seas!  Well, to be more accurate, we are somewhere off the coast of Nova Scotia, not far from Halifax – though we haven’t seen any land today, and the wind is high and the seas rather rough (though I’m told we haven’t seen anything yet…).  We pulled out of Boston Harbor at 9:00 pm last night, though it took us nearly an hour to actually depart the Harbor itself, accompanied by trusty tug boats along the way.  Spirits were high on deck, as the Faculty and Staff for the Fall 2011 Voyage (Yes, we are called “Voyagers” and old timers even use Voyage as a verb, as in “Have you voyaged before?”  Pat and I are resisting…) joined the members of a shipboard seminar, the Forum on Global Engagement, in bidding farewell to land.  The Boston skyline was colorful at night, as we moved under the flight line from Boston Logan Airport, and made our way out the channel, guided by bell buoys. 

Hard to get to sleep with all the excitement of our departure, and Pat and I were trying to make all our final phone calls as our phone service is now turned off until Thanksgiving when we dock in Hawaii – momentarily back in U.S. territory.  We dawned our “Acupressure” bracelets to try to ward off motion sickness, and slept soundly to the gentle rocking of the boat.  We awakened to leaden skies and no sign of land – my first time being out of sight of land on a ship.

Our days are taken up with orientation activities, and also participating as we are able in the 5-day Forum on Global Engagement, “Diplomacy and Dialogue: A Focus on Sino-U.S. Relations.”  The program for this event is impressive, including Jim McNerney, the CEO of Boeing, Chair of Pres. Obama’s President’s Export Council, and Chair of The Business Roundtable, and former Ambassador to China, Stapleton Roy, who helped to negotiate the establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relationships in the 70s.  This afternoon we heard from Molly Corbett Broad, President of the American Council on Education – the conversations are stimulating and an excellent introduction to the themes of the semester.

Molly Corbett Broad, ACE
Wake of the MV Explorer as we sail toward Nova Scotia
So far Pat and I seem to be adjusting relatively well to the gentle rocking of the boat, though it can definitely make one a little queasy!  We’re getting oriented to the 7 decks on ship, and passed our Lifeboat drill yesterday.  We are in a temporary cabin until the FGE participants leave Thursday in Montreal, at which point we’ll move into our permanent quarters and the roughly 500 students will join us.  Friday we set sail for Casablanca, Morocco!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Set to Embark! Communing with Thoreau, Boston, and the MV Explorer

Blog #2 8/20/11: Concord, Walden, and Boston

Boarding the MV Explorer: We made it!
8:00 pm, Saturday August 20: We are on the M/V Explorer, the Semester at Sea Ship!  It has been an eventful few days since we left Missoula on Thursday.   We arrived in Boston Thursday afternoon, and fortunately all 8 pieces of our luggage arrived with us.  We stayed with Dan’s old Union Seminary classmate, Tom Mousin, and his partner, Thomas Brown, in the lovely old rectory in Winchester where Thomas serves as Rector to the Episcopal Church there. 

After a wonderful reunion dinner with Dan and Tom’s old Union friend, Sharon Webb and her partner, Lisa, yesterday we spent a full day exploring the fascinating environs of Concord, founded in 1635 as the first inland settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the New England literary home to the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Alcotts, and of course, Pat’s soulmate, Henry David Thoreau.   We dusted off our grade school history memories and followed the Minuteman Trail from Lexington to Concord, and then moved forward to the 19th century to immerse ourselves in the world of the Transcendentalists.  Fascinating to visit the homes of Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts, and to imagine their 19th century rapidly industrializing world filled with the issues of their day, particularly the rapidly approaching conflict between Northern and Southern states. 

Replica of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond

Certainly the highlight for both of us was visiting Walden Pond, set aside now as a state park, where we saw both a replica of Thoreau’s cabin and the original cabin site where he spent two years writing down his reflections and observations that eventually emerged as his classic, Walden.  It is a beautiful and tranquil spot, set apart from what has grown into suburban Boston.

Pat on the USS Constitution
This morning we set off early to explore Cambridge and walk through the campus of Harvard University, and then drive down the Charles River past MIT where Pat had been accepted as an undergraduate (before wisely choosing the new University of California at San Diego).  Thomas met us at his new parish in Charlestown, and took us on a history-filled walk along the Freedom Trail, with stops at the Bunker Hill Battle memorial, the USS Constitution, up to the Old North Church, and through Boston’s downtown until we reached the Massachusetts Statehouse and Boston Common.  So much rich history and architecture in such a relatively small area.

Our first meal at sunset on the MV Explorer!
And now we are on the M/V Explorer!  We boarded our new home for the next 4 months around 4:30 pm, had our first meal sitting outside on Deck 6 (and Dan already lost his first meal to voracious sea gulls when he turned his back for a moment; I’ll need to be more vigilant), and now are happily ensconced in Cabin 3026, our home until we get to Montreal at the end of the week and move into our permanent cabin.  Hard to believe we have made it this far!  Exciting to think about all the adventures ahead!  Stay tuned…

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dan and Pat: From Montana to Semester at Sea!

 Monday, August 15, 2011:  We are only three days away from flying to Boston where we will board the MV Explorer, Semester at Sea’s ship (, on Saturday.  We will sail for Montreal where we will meet the students next week, and we’ll leave Montreal for Casablanca, Morocco, on August 26th.  For a copy of our itinerary and map, check out this URL:

We began planning for this sabbatical leave with Semester at Sea over a year ago, and it is hard to believe that it is now almost here!  We’ll both be working with classes during the semester: Dan will be teaching “globalized” versions of three of his Environmental Studies courses he teaches regularly at the University of Montana: Globalization, Justice and the Environment; The Greening of Religion: Religion, Nature and the Environment; and Nature and Society.  Pat will be the Teaching Assistant for the one required course that all 700 SAS students will be taking, “Global Studies,” which will focus on the intersection of Globalization and Development.

Semester at Sea is set up so that roughly half the days during the semester we are at sea, and the other half are in the different countries we visit.  We teach our courses while at sea, and are largely free to do other activities while we are in port.  Here’s our itinerary:

            EMBARK: Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Aug 26
            Casablanca, Morocco: Sept 3-6
            Tema, (Accra), Ghana: Sept 13-16
            Cape Town, South Africa: Sept 23-28
            Port Louis, Mauritius: Oct 4
            Chennai, India: Oct 10-15
            Penang, Malaysia: Oct 19-21
            Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam: Oct 25-31
            Hong Kong / Shanghai, China: Nov 3-8
            Kobe / Yokohama, Japan: Nov 11-15
            Hilo, Hawaii, USA: Nov 24 (Thanksgiving!)
            Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Dec 4-5
            Traverse Panama Canal:  Dec 7
            Havana, Cuba: Dec 9-11
            DEBARK: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA: Dec 13

I will also be organizing and leading 7 one-day field trips that relate to themes in my classes.  It has been fun (interesting!) trying to organize these from afar, and I am excited to see how they actually play out.  Here are the 7 field trips I’ll be leading:

Ghana: Visit the Akosombo Dam & Shai Hills Nature Reserve
Ghana: Christianity and Islam in West Africa
Capetown, South Africa: Religious Responses to Climate Change in South Africa
Penang, Malaysia: Indigenous Industries near Penang
Ho Chi Minh City: Climate Change in Vietnam & Mekong Delta
Hong Kong & Shenzhen, China: Labor & Environmental Issues in Chinese Factory Zones
Okolona, Japan: Zen Temple and Meditation Led by Zen Monks

While in most of the countries we visit, Pat and I will travel on our own, we are hoping to do 4 organized Semester at Sea field trips.  In Morocco, we’ll travel to Marrakech, Berber villages, and the Atlas Mountains.  In India, we hope to fly from Chennai (Madras) where we dock to Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal) and the sacred city of Varanasi.  While in Vietnam we’ll travel to Cambodia to visit Phnom Penh and the Temples at Angkor Wat.  And from Hong Kong we’ll spend several days in Beijing and have a chance to get to the Great Wall.

On this blog I hope to be able to share with you much of what we are experiencing and learning during the next 4 months.  I am particularly interested in the intersection between Globalization and Climate Change, and since we’ll arrive at each of the 14 countries by ship at major ports, at the very least predictions of rising sea levels in response to climate change should be relevant – and in fact have already been documented in some places.  But I hope and suspect we will learn about much more than this, and issues at the intersection of social justice and environmental sustainability should take on a whole new face.

I hope you will enjoy accompanying me and Pat on this journey through this blog, and that it will stimulate your own interest in the places and peoples we will encounter.  Three more days and we are off!