December 29 – Victoria Harbor
29.12.2007 - 29.12.2007
I start this post by apologizing for the disjointed nature of these posts. There’s so much going on that I would like to share, and it’s difficult to keep things separate as I would prefer to do. In future posts, I may try to use headers within the post themselves, but this is all a crapshoot right now!
For one, there's life on board the ship and the social setting, which includes my fellow program staff, the hotel/cabin crew (a mixture), the food service crew (mostly S.E. Asian), Royal Caribbean’s crew – mostly Greek, although there is at least one Honduran, one Nicaraguan and one Black American - who actually “drive” and maintain the ship (in fact, we’re flying a Greek flag), and soon there will be students! This is truly a melting pot, and everyone’s background and story is amazing.
Though the staff and students are skewed towards Americans, which is something they’d like to address, most of us are nomadic souls in one sense or another. There are people who’ve been in the U.S. Foreign Service, the Peace Corp, a woman who teaches but is a Human Rights Attorney from Maine but has been involved in cases that required her to live in Lithuania for six months, and Armenia for a couple of years; there are first generation people like myself – an Iranian woman for example and an Egyptian woman who grew up feeling like the odd ball duckling in their lily white communities in the United States and have had to grapple with the same identity issues that I’ve had being Black and African and American but not feeling like a Black American. Some people have been in the military or were military brats. There’s a Canadian guy who lives on a sail boat somewhere in British Columbia during the summer breaks and then sails to Vancouver to teach during the semesters, riding his bike to and fro, and then sails back to his secret place; he’s also sailed around the world by himself. The outgoing Onboard Life Director is “New Mexican,” (which I know will rankle at least one person reading this) and the incoming one is a Black South African. Most everyone is well travelled, many people having studied or worked abroad and/or lived in more than one country for significant amounts of time. Many people, though not all of us, are polyglots. The ESL teacher is actually an Italian guy from Rome.
One particularly surprising story is that of a young Black American staff member, who told us that she has lived all of her life in Boston. She has more than ten siblings and something like 56 cousins, and all of them live within 1 mile of their grandmother. Though she is one of the younger ones, she is the ONLY person in her family to have graduated from high school and gone to college. She admits that when she was younger, she was headed down the familial path and destined for trouble, but while still in grade school she had a teacher who helped her see that if she continued as she was – getting kicked out of schools every four months or so – that her life would go nowhere. Believe it or not, she ended up going through Landmark Education, and she credits that for being the other catalyst that changed her life. Those of you who know the reference probably also know that I am of the camp who fully believes that Landmark is a cult or very close to one - it even has a very small tie to Scientology - therefore, it was an eye-opener to meet someone who has genuinely benefited from it in a positive way. (And to be honest, I like that. I like having to reconsider or rethink a firm belief even if it doesn't change my overall opinion. I think that will be a regular occurrance on this trip and of the beautiful things about travelling). Anyway, she eventually ended up getting accepted to the [Bill] Clinton School for Public Service in Little Rock, but one of her mentors encouraged her to apply for this program. She was a student on the previous voyage, and she was so successful that they invited her to stay for this semester with a staff role – now she’s the Mixed Media expert.
The age ranges of the staff members vary – I’d say that most of the Onboard Life people are in their 20s and early 30s. Most all of them have Masters Degrees already. Most of the faculty are in their mid-40s to late-60s. The administrative staff runs the gamut from 20s to +60. Apparently the student ages last time around ranged from 17 to a couple students in their 40s. This time around there will be at least two students in the their 60s.
I also want to share things about life off the ship, and about the TSS program itself, and specifically about my job. Ideally I’d like to write about one aspect or another, but it’s jumbled for me, and I don’t have much time to write, though fortunately I type pretty fast : )
Another caveat: the technology aspect of things has been and will be a challenge. Though the ship is wifi outfitted, our service comes via satellite and is expensive and slow – slower than a dial up connection – not to mention the bandwidth is extremely narrow. There are two “staff” computers and two “research” computers in the library, but there are strict restrictions on usage. All of us have laptops. Most of the students will bring their own laptops and those who are without will be given loaners. But if the connection has been this slow and tedious with just 30 or so of us, I can only imagine what will happen when another 200 people are added.
That’s another thing. The program is intended for 600 students, but their recruitment numbers have been much lower, probably due to the cost. The tuition for this semester is over $US20k. They do provide some financial aid and some scholarships, including full rides, but that’s a daunting figure for anybody let alone a student, even from the United States. However, I think this would be an exceptional opportunity for any undergrad or graduate student who is certain of entering into international business, international relations, or international communications.
Back to tech piece though: staff members get 250 free Internet minutes. After that we have to pay 50 cents per minute to use the Internet. Similarly, we can make phone calls, but they are $3/min. I’ve been able to write so much these past few days simply because they’re not charging us at all – not even cutting into our free minutes – until Jan. 2, so we’re all frantically trying to communicate as much as we can in the next few days. At the same time, we’ve been doing training sessions more than eight hours a day, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post or how much I’ll have time to record once we get going. I think it will probably also be difficult to share picture and videos, but I’ll see what I can do at the various ports. I’m sure all of us will be making a beeline for whatever Internet cafes may be available.
Now, besides the fact that we all know I have a pretty hardcore Internet addiction that is clearly not going to be fed on this trip, I think what’s most daunting is that my forte is Internet Research. That’s going to be difficult to do without a reliable Internet connection. The other thing at which I am particularly good at is knowing how to get information that I can’t obtain directly – I usually know who to call or who to email, and I can follow the trail and get things that way. But again, that’s gonna be tough to do. These are pretty much the only aspect of librarianship that I enjoy. Yes, I am worried. To add to the challenge, the physical collection is woefully inadequate. On the one hand, it gives me a fall back in that we just won’t have access to an overwhelming amount of information, which means that in some instances I’ll only be able to say, “Sorry, but I can’t help you.” On the other hand, I want to be able to fulfill my role, and I do want to be able to help people. So, I’m not sure how this is going to play out, and I’m already feeling a disconnect from my “supervisor.” I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to make any negative predictions.
The one thing that we all share from a professional standpoint is that this is a work in progress. The program is still new and we’re all operating with an unusually high degree of uncertainty. For example, some of the faculty members are only receiving their textbooks this week. They have to teach from the curriculum set by Maquarie, so they have no choice in which texts to use. Imagine knowing that you’re going to be teaching two or three courses and you’ve never seen the books! In addition, they’re all used to being able to provide ample supplemental materials. The LRC, as I mentioned, is sorely lacking in materials directly related to the specific courses. We’ve got the Encyclopedia Britannica and the World Book, but beyond that the collection is scarce! Our best electronic resource is Wikipedia, which is downloaded in its entirely on the intranet. I'm not as skeptical of Wikipedia as many others are, but I would never use it as my primary citing source. We have access to some databases, but connectivity is an issue so even aside from the Internet itself, it’s gonna be hard to get people the information they need – faculty as well as students.
This is true of every aspect of the program, which is extremely complex and ambitious. It’s almost like trying to organize a big dinner but the tables haven’t arrived and the menus are misprinted, but everyone is eager to be together and chow down. The scope of this thing is incredible and there are so many pieces that are incomplete. At the same time, I’m extremely impressed by how successful they have been so far, and how responsive and reactive and committed to the iterative process. Every day in these sessions we makes suggestion after suggestion about how to do this, how to do that, how to change this, how to change that, and the suggestions are very very seriously received.
I think that if they can get their enrollment numbers up, this could end up being a formidable experiential learning program. I would really like to see it succeed and know that I was a part of helping it get there. It feels like trying to build a family business.
Lastly, I just want to add that I don’t even have time to proofread this things, so sorry about any typos. And I apologize that I can’t prettify the pages with more photos and stuff – at least not yet. That’s it for now. I, and most others, have been exhausted. Tonight, I didn't even go to dinner because I as soon as I went to my room after the last session, I konked out for a few hours. I'm writing this at 2am, but I have to be up in not many hours. I hope that the schedule will ease a bit once we start up, but that's truly wishful thinking. All of us have determined that this is going to be far more work than anticipated - yet, I still believe relatively speaking, I'll have the easiest lot. Nonetheless, I don't think it's gonna be a cake walk. P.S. They served the best flan the other day - YUM!