07.01.2008 - 09.01.2008
I’ve been trying to minimize this part of the journey without sweeping it entirely under the rug. I suppose the best way to do that is to tell the minimalist version of what happened, which is essentially that I was apparently lumped in with a group labeled as malcontents, and those of us in that group became the target of a good old-fashioned witchhunt over the course of about three days. What made it weird and cult like is that there had been a late night meeting in which several people got upset because the meeting was being run in such a way that no information was being produced. It was a bunch of hypothetical discussion about how to have conversations with the students about having conversations with the students. That last sentence is not a typo. And basically this was happening because there was no good reason to have a meeting; and you’ve got a bunch of exhausted adults in a room who could be sleeping. So some people lost it. I did not express myself verbally during the ruckus, but I’m sure it was clear that I was not pleased to be there.
The following day, I was having a private conversation with someone but in a public place, and I eventually became aware of the fact that I was being overheard. However, I could not stop myself. This began an unfortunate and ridiculous chain of events. The upshot is that there is a small faction of staff onboard who view themselves as the gatekeepers of the program, and they began an investigation of me and a few others. At first I thought I was being paranoid because for a day or two, I became convinced that there were plants at the meetings or that people were watching my every move and yet it seemed far-fetched. I began feeling like I was being watched. Turns out I was.
But so were others. We all kind of figured it out simultaneously. We all also eventually realized that this group of people was not acting on the behalf of the TSS exec team. They’re just a small clique with some hidden agenda but operating on their own. Other faculty began confiding in me that they had the same feelings, and that’s how we collectively realized it was true, and that’s how we figured out who real crazies are, and then we realized that it’s really just that handful of people and not the entire entity, and I guess that’s all I have to say about it because it’s just too weird and difficult to spell out. Besides, it’s not nearly as interesting as other things that have been happening. Still, I wanted to mention it because that I am trivializing it, it had a huge impact on me for a few days. I felt really really bad and even wrote to Shannon that I felt in need of medication.
Much more interesting, we’ve got 180 or so students from roughly 30 countries. Sounds impressive. Hell, it is impressive. But the national roll call revealed the disparity hidden in those numbers. Most of the countries that are represented are represented by a handful or less of people. One person from here, four people from there, a couple people from elsewhere. Mexicans – about 30 of them – comprise the second biggest group. The biggest group is the Americans, who make up just shy of 50% of the student population. This statistic might not be surprising given that the price tag for this whole affair runs at more than $20k. I think most of us were shocked when the “American kids” swirled into the middle of the welcoming ceremony circle and began chanting “USA, USA.” Okay, granted the Mexican kids have an extraordinary national pride that I think far outstrips that of the average U.S. citizen; they were even more boisterous than the U.S. Americans. But the other nationality groups are too small to be so rah-rah. I would hope to see the U.S. participation limited to 25% in the future, but I don't know if that's realistic.
TSS has academic ties to some other universities – I think I mentioned them in a previous post. Many of the students from those other universities, including the University of Ghana, received full scholarships from TSS. But, all students were told to expect to spend anywhere between $5k and $15k extra during the voyage – for textbooks and readers, shore excursions and independent travel, Internet usage etc. Apparently the Ghanaian students came aboard with only $100 each, which makes me really sad. Some of the other students have wanted to have a fundraiser for them and others have come into the library inquiring as to whether we have textbooks that we can give them. I’m not sure what’s happening on either front, but it’s a situation I hope to follow.