My Voyage, My Voice
In preparing to write my piece for this blogging project, I wanted to be intentional, as the Women In Student Affairs knowledge community and its followers have impacted me both personally and professionally. I wanted to ensure that I was sharing a story that would be meaningful, thoughtful and resonate with a general readership. Perhaps I had taken this blogging project too much to heart. Previous writings I quickly dismissed as too somber, not focused in a developmental lens, not scholarly enough. I read through an almost-completed blog with my husband, a practitioner in the field, and while reading my own words aloud, I knew they did not accurately reflect who I am and what I have to share. I felt like Goldilocks trying out a blog that just didn’t fit.
You see, reflecting back on the last four years, there are a lot of moments that I can talk about that involve road blocks, questioning my fit in the profession, frustration at not breaking through the ceiling to mid-level opportunities. The reality is, we all have difficult stories and have experienced life with furloughs, budget cuts and hiring freezes. So I did some additional reflection and harkened back to the last time that I blogged on a regular basis, or at least, consistently for ten weeks. It was 2008 and I was serving on staff of the summer voyage of Semester at Sea. There, in my own words, I found my voice and my inspiration. From the cafes of Bergen, Norway to the streets of Vatican City and the sands of Giza, Egypt, I hope to impart to you some of the most profound experiences of my life and lessons that I learned during my 10 week trek across the Atlantic. This is my story.
My story starts out on February 1, 2008 when I received a call from the Director of Student Life for the offering me a Resident Director for the summer voyage. I was taken completely aback by the phone call, as I had been told by numerous people that it was highly competitive, people left their permanent jobs to participate, many people applied multiple times before they are accepted. I accepted on the spot. The voyage would take us from Scandanavia to Russia to western Europe, Turkey and Croatia. I was to meet the ship in port in Halifax, Nova Scotia on June 9, 2008 for training before departure. The MV Explorer was truly the embodiment of a living learning community. The student body was incredibly diverse—1,100 students in total—from Ivy League schools to community colleges, some were on full scholarship for the voyage, others had money at their disposal. Classes convened during the days at sea and in port, students would participate in field study and service learning with their professors. As a staff person who had been out of the classroom for almost four years, I was just as eager to engage. The world was our classroom and its people were our professors.
On our last day in Bergen, Norway, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with two Norwegian law students who went to the University of Bergen. I was incredulous at their knowledge and understanding of foreign and domestic policy. While they knew the intricacies of the 2008 Presidential Election, I could not even accurately announce the name of Norway’s president. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:
“Our last day in Bergen was one of the most fun, as my friends David and Marco had met a local Norwegian. His name is Ivan and he is a law student at the University of Bergen. Ivan and his girlfriend Charlotte met us in town on Friday and we had lunch at a small cafe. We stayed at the cafe for a good three hours and it just fascinated me how much Norwegians know about the U.S. political system, what’s happening with the presidential elections and just basic foreign policy. I was slightly embarrassed at the fact that they were very eager to engage in conversation about some tough topics and to talk about McCain/Obama stances on issues, and I really could not contribute anything other than what I was reading in the New York Times. For me, it made me intrinsically feel very American-centric in my world views. Norwegians are very interested in American politics because they realize that they have a global impact…I challenged myself to think about when was the last time that I stopped to think about another country’s (besides Iraq) foreign policy and the ramifications it has for Americans. Just food for thought. And by the way, Norwegians are very, VERY pro-Obama.” (taken from biebsinthebaltic.blogspot.com).
That conversation in Norway has challenged me to think critically about expanding my world view and how I am informed of the world around me. This has resonated even more as we have become more intimately connected to the world around us through technology and universities across the country intent on preparing its graduates to engage as global citizens and having the savvy and understanding of world affairs and their global impact. This experience has provided some thoughtful questions to ask my staff since I returned from the voyage. Key questions that I ask them: How do we engage our students and connect world events to their own experience as a global citizen? How are we shaping their out of classroom experience? What are they learning and what do we want them to learn about civic engagement? We need to be informed in our practice, well read on what’s going on outside our nucleus. We need to be engaged with the world that reaches outside of our living environments. Our world is bigger than our (individual) borders.
From Bergen, Norway, we traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, which could be an entire blog post unto itself. My time in St. Petersburg was profound for a myriad of reasons, but the most overt was that here, I was truly in a foreign land. In Norway, we had been afforded the luxury of easily conversing with Norwegians. While I wholeheartedly attempted common phrases in Norwegian, the people were kind enough to converse in English, which for many was their second or third language. My paper copy of the cyrillic alphabet and common words humbled me. I couldn’t read the language, couldn’t speak the language, nor could I assume that the people of St. Petersburg to speak or understand English.
“The faculty and staff held Russian lessons yesterday and my friend John, who is a professor on the ship, was leading one of the classes. John is the youngest professor on the ship at the age of 30 and lived in St. Petersburg for a year. John taught a great class….let me share some tidbits that I learned:
Ya ni panimayoo (I don’t understand)
Mi ya zavoot Kristyn (My name is Kristyn)
Dobre Dien! (good afternoon!)
Dobre utra (good morning)
Dobra Vachar (good evening)
Stolka stoit? (how much?)”
While I was absolutely enthralled with the city and its architecture, its history, it’s culture and arts (home to the world-famous Miriinsky Ballet and Hermitage Museum), I had to be resourceful and skillful—and rely on other colleagues to assist in navigating Russia’s second largest city.
My time in St. Petersburg was, in a word, incredible. As I reflected on my time there throughout the rest of the trip and beyond, I think about the international student population that our campuses serve and the quality of service that we provide to them. I was fortunate to have a network of people to help me navigate a large city for five days as a visitor. The experience has instilled a new appreciation for our international student population. I appreciate their fortitude and confidence in moving abroad, taking intensive classes in their second or third language and acclimating to a new environment. I’m also keenly aware of how I communicate with others and how I listen. It’s easy to fall into a routine where you are in the midst of multi-tasking while taking a phone call or having a conversation with an individual, in both private and professional settings. To take the time and really listen to a person and acknowledge that what they say sounds so simple, but my experience in Russia keeps that at the forefront of my interactions.
From learning about childcare and health systems in Copenhagen to observing a call to prayer in Cairo, each destination was a classroom, teaching me lessons about life and the kind of person that I aspire to be. My experience also provided me an appreciation for many aspects of my life that I am often remiss to value—health care, owning property as a woman, choosing your own career path. I am a better mother, partner/wife, professional and person because of my voyage of self-discovery.
My feet may be on dry land, but my voyage carries on.