The last time Rick Barnes spent any time on a ship was during his honeymoon to the Bahamas 33 years ago.
So when he heard he would be spending more than 100 days this fall teaching aboard Semester at Sea’s 24,300-ton floating university, the MV Explorer, the Randolph College psychology professor was a little daunted.
“I packed lots of motion sickness medicine just in case,” he joked. Barnes was among a select group chosen as faculty members for Semester at Sea’s 2010 fall voyage.
During his sabbatical from Randolph, Barnes served as the environmental psychology professor, teaching environmental psychology and sustainable community courses to students from around the globe.
Semester at Sea is a global study abroad program sponsored by the University of Virginia that traces its origins to 1963. Approximately 700 students circumnavigate the globe aboard the floating campus each fall and spring semester. More than 50,000 students have studied and traveled to 60 countries through the program.
The fall journey featured stops in 11 locations, including Spain, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Japan, and Hawaii. For Barnes, who has not traveled extensively internationally, the opportunity was the adventure of a lifetime—and a boost to what he can offer as a professor.
“I had the opportunity to see parts of the world that I wouldn’t normally see,” he said. “This was a way to look at sustainability issues in other countries and to bring some of those examples and experiences back to my classes in Lynchburg.”
Faculty on Semester at Sea voyages must learn to be flexible and think outside of the box for their courses. While at sea, students learn in a classroom setting, but the bigger emphasis is the experiential learning opportunities available at each stop. Barnes and his students studied urban planning practices and urban ecology at each of the ports they visited. In Spain, they visited a solar and wind farm.
“Seeing how Spain emphasizes renewable energy gives me hope that the United States can do it someday,” he said. “We can learn a lot from the way other countries conserve their energy and resources, while enjoying a good standard of living. However, it was disappointing on several of the field trips to see how much of the American consumer lifestyle is being adopted by other countries. There was sprawl in Spain, and there are malls in Morocco. And of course there also are American fast food restaurants—just fewer of them.”
Barnes also toured an alternative energy facility in South Africa, and in Hong Kong he led a seven-mile hike around the city to look at urban green spaces. He even completed a three-day, intensive yoga program in India. He plans to use his experiences to add an international, cross-cultural perspective to his classes.
“We talk in environmental psychology about place identification and sense of place,” he said. “You really can’t have that by watching a travelogue on television. You have to be there. Being in South Africa and Hong Kong and all of these other places has changed my perspective of the world. It has given me greater insight into the incredible diversity of ways that people create communities around the world. Seeing wind farms in Spain, ancient cities in Morocco, and talking with urban planners in Ghana helped me to think about the challenges of global sustainability in a much broader context.”
Some of his most memorable experiences were not part of the planned curriculum but came from meeting people on the ship and during the stops. Barnes was able to have dinner with Angela Arigoni-Mesfioui ’01 and her family while in Casablanca on the night the entire country was celebrating the end of fasting for Ramadan.
Archbishop and Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, joined the Semester at Sea journey for the entire voyage, and Barnes was able to meet them in person, along with David Toscano, a Virginia state legislator from Charlottesville, and numerous colleagues and students from across the nation.
The opportunity to experience a Semester at Sea voyage impacts faculty members almost as much as it does students, according to Rosalyn W. Berne, vice president and senior academic officer for the Institute for Shipboard Education, the non-profit organization that runs the program.
“What happens on the ship is not just what happens in the classroom,” she said. “It is truly a living, learning community.”
One of the biggest adjustments for faculty members is living with students and colleagues in a close environment. “You are always teaching,” Berne said. “You are always interactive. You have a strong community atmosphere, and the learning is pretty intense.”
Above: Rick Barnes is soaked with "fish guts" during his initiation on Neptune Day as a "Royal Diamond Shellback" after crossing the equator at the prime meridian.
Spending a lot of time with students and colleagues was not a problem for Barnes, who said the close community on the ship reminded him of Randolph.
“Particularly at Randolph, faculty members have as much interaction with students outside of the classroom as they do inside the classroom,” he said. “In that way, being on the ship was a lot like being in Lynchburg.”
Berne said faculty members return to their home institutions energized. “Your teaching comes alive because you have now seen firsthand some of what you have been teaching,” she said.
Barnes agreed, adding that he is already considering new courses. “You start thinking creatively about different ways to teach a course. Actually being in these places and seeing the ways other people and other cultures relate to their surroundings and deal with environmental issues is going to transform how I teach at Randolph.”