Residents at sea for a true global lesson


Around the world in 80 days – well, not quite.

Four of Warwick’s own are among the 570 students sailing around the world in 105 days as part of Semester at Sea, the U.S. shipboard program from study abroad. This spring’s journey marks the 108th Semester at Sea voyage. Warwick’s John Eng-Wong, Steven Bernache, Lindsay Ruggieri and Priscilla Angelo boarded their vessel in the Bahamas on Jan. 19 and have since traveled to 12 countries including Brazil, South Africa, India, Singapore, China and Japan.

Both Eng-Wong and Angelo are Lifelong Learners, non-students who audit the classes and participate in field studies. Ruggieri and Bernache are both students, Ruggieri at CCRI and Bernache at URI.

“I decided to embark on the spring semester voyage of Semester at Sea because its itinerary enabled me to see the world,” said Bernache, who corresponded with the Beacon via email from aboard the ship. “The MV Explorer brought me to places I could only dream about going to in the past.”

Bernache said he first became interested in the Semester at Sea program after traveling abroad to Costa Rica, where he met two alumni of the program.

Bernache, Ruggieri and their fellow student travelers will earn six college credits from Semester at Sea’s (SAS) academic sponsor, the University of Virginia.

Angelo, a Lifelong Learner who has been affiliated with SAS for nearly 40 years, said the Institute of Shipboard Education has administered the program for nearly 50 years.

“It offers college students a comparative study abroad experience with travel around the world,” she said. “On each voyage, Lifelong Learners like me are also ‘students;’ and they bring their professional life experience into the classroom and also serve as informal mentors in and out of the class program.”

Angelo said the Spring 2012 voyage included approximately 525 United States undergraduates, 45 international students, 50 Lifelong Learners, 70 faculty and staff, and 186 crew members. Their vessel, the MV Explorer, is a 24,300-ton International Shippers Association cargo ship.

“Ship life has been an experience in and of its own,” said Bernache. “Throughout all of the days navigating on the ship, not once have I ever been bored. I have learned a lot from the amazingly talented people throughout the vessel.”

While some of the people on the ship are from various countries, most are from America.

“This gave me much insight on the diversity of culture within my own country without even leaving the ship,” said Bernache. “I have grown very close to the shipboard community in the past few months.”

Being from the smallest state, Bernache said he was surprised to find so many Rhode Islanders on board. In addition to the Warwick residents, Megan Gonsalves, Emily Resnevic, Austin Davis and Becca Olivo, all from other areas of Rhode Island, spent the past 100 days at sea.

For Angelo, becoming a Lifelong Learner was a dream. Angelo served as a SAS Dean of Students on two voyages, and when she retired, she made SAS her life’s focus.

“The combination of a three-and-a-half-month academic study with a thalassology [Greek for study of the sea] theme tied to the itinerary intrigued me,” she said.

The itinerary included 12 stops at ports like Dominica, Brazil’s Amazon, Ghana, South Africa, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Japan.

“We studied the transoceanic connections of those places, their culture, their political units, and comparative problems,” she said. “We explored things that linked these places by forces such as exploration, migration, imperialism, commerce for five centuries or more. We looked at spaces that were connected rather than divided by the sea. And we became very aware of the problems of our planet now.”

For Bernache, picking his favorite destination during the SAS journey was a near-impossible task.

“Every country I experienced was completely different than the last,” he said. “They all had their own unique qualities and eye opening experiences for me. I feel that if everyone in the world had the chance to interact with each other, there would never be war again.”

Bernache said the educational aspect of the SAS journey has transcended what he could learn from a textbook or in a classroom.

“SAS led me to learn and absorb more information than would be possible by books alone,” he said. “What better way to observe the biodiversity of the biosphere found in the Amazonian Rain Forest than by trekking deep into the jungle? What better way to learn about the conservation of cheetahs and rhinoceros than by going to an African Safari? When learning about the cross-cultural psychology amongst peoples from around the world, I cannot think of a better way to learn that subject than by experiencing it. The info learned in this way just seems to stick.”

Of course, not all aspects of life at sea have been easy, but Bernache said they pale in comparison to the benefits of the experience.

“We have gone through endless time changes causing us to lose sleep on a regular basis,” he said. “It was all well worthwhile for the experience and knowledge I have been so fortunate to obtain.”

Although no longer enrolled in undergrad programs, the Lifelong Learners aboard the MV Explorer are still getting an education, according to Angelo.

“Like me, [the Lifelong Learners] were attracted to the shipboard educational opportunity rather than being tourists when we disembarked in a port,” she said. “And for me, it was thrilling and a goal to be living with the Millenials [today’s college students], to learn and to appreciate their generation’s habits and life commitments.”

Soon, the journey will come to an end for Bernache, Angelo and their fellow travelers. After a stop in Hawaii, they will return to San Diego tomorrow.

Bernache plans to ride his motorcycle across country, reuniting with fellow SAS members along the way.

“As much as I don’t want to say good-bye, I look forward to reuniting with many of [them,]” he said.

“I am still processing all that I observed and experienced,” said Angelo. “I know I have become more aware of how interdependent our world has become and the need to find together solutions to overpopulation, hunger, water, global warming, et cetera.”


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