SEMESTER AT SEA TAKES UNION HIGH GRAD TO EXOTIC, FARAWAY PLACES
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
It is a paradoxical setting a college campus with limited classroom space but a laboratory as spacious as the seven seas.
The campus is anchored on the S.S. Universe Explorer, the home of the 26-year-old Semester At Sea program. Each fall students from throughout the world attend college classes on the ship while making a near round-the-world voyage.
Eastern Oregon University junior Chad Dodds knows the S.S. Universe Explorer well it was recently his home for 3 1/2 months.
Dodds spent fall term aboard the ship while a student in the University of Pittsburgh-affiliated Semester at Sea program. The S.S. Universe made stops in Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Cuba. The 22,403 nautical-mile voyage started in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Aug. 31 and ended in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 9.
"I wished that it had kept going. It was all too amazing,'' said Dodds, 20, a 2000 graduate of Union High School.
The voyage was made unforgettable by people like Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Fidel Castro, leader of Cuba. Both served as "guest lecturers'' for the 600 students on the S.S. Universe Explorer.
Tutu, the South African religious leader who advocated nonviolent resistance to apartheid, spoke with the students for about 30 minutes. The winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize talked about humanitarian efforts, his country's old apartheid policies and more.
Tutu had anything but a business-like demeanor.
"He was very warm and kind. He looked people in the eye and wasn't rushed,'' said Dodds, who helped escort Tutu off the ship.
Dodds also visited the Institute of Democracy of South Africa. The organization played a key role in helping to repeal the nation's apartheid laws and free Nelson Mandella, the political leader who was imprisoned for 29 years.
Despite the repeal of apartheid, racism is still prevalent there, Dodds said. For example, many restaurants do not serve blacks, and cab drivers do not pick up blacks.
Many people also have openly racist attitudes, Dodds said.
In Cuba, meanwhile, all 600 of the Semester At Sea students attended a presentation by Castro. They were joined by 1,000 Cuban students. Castro spoke for five hours on topics such as the relationship between Cuba and the United States, agriculture and health care.
"He is very dignified and is a great speaker. He is reserved and very witty,'' Dodds said.
Semester At Sea students attend classes on the ship between visits to other counties. The stops in other countries ranged from 2 1/2 to 5 days. Students did practicum assignments for their classes at the stops.
One of Dodds' favorite memories of the trip was his visit to Cambodia, where he traveled to the Angkor Wat ruins of the ancient Khmer Empire. The ruins, which date back at least 800 years, are comprised of temples, a palace, a canal system and more. He found the ancient and well preserved art work in the ruins to be stunning.
His most lasting memory of the Angkor Wat ruins was a sunrise. Steam was burning off water around the ruins while nearby religious monks chanted and burned incense.
"It was surreal,'' Dodds said.
A TRAFFIC JAM LIKE NO OTHER
As a motorcycle rider in Southeast Asia, Dodds had plenty of company. The motorcycle is the primary means of mechanical transportation. Traffic jams in Southeast Asia involve motorcycles exclusively.
The EOU student will never forget the traffic jam he and several friends encountered in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City. Motorcycles filled all lanes of the streets from sidewalk to sidewalk. Many Vietnamese had four or five people on their motorcycle and one even had six.
Dodds and his friends were about 2 miles from their ship and in danger of being late for their boarding call. The students began running through the streets past thousands of people on motorcycles who were stopped in traffic.
The excited students were shouting at each other while running. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese sat patiently on their motorcycles.
"They were used to it,'' Dodds said.
In India, Dodds visited the famed Taj Mahal, the mausoleum built in the 1600s by Mogul emperor Shah Janan.
Dodds was struck by precious stones.
"Gems were laid everywhere within the marble,'' Dodds said.
His most lasting memory of India, though, is the poverty he witnessed. Hillsides were filled with shacks, and there was often almost no sanitation.
"I knew that there was poverty in India, but I didn't know how bad it was,'' he said.
On the other extreme, Dodds witnessed the bustling city of Shanghai, China. He was struck by the city's skyline.
"It has 17 million people and 4,000 skyscrapers,'' Dodds said. "They told us that a new skyscraper is going up every two weeks.''
Bamboo scaffolding surrounds the skyscrapers under construction.
"They look like green blobs in the air,'' Dodds said.
The stops students made at each country were 2 1/2 to 5 days long. None was ever too lengthy in Dodds' eyes.
"Even if I didn't like a place, I didn't get tired of it. I had the mindset that I might not be there again so I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible,'' Dodds said.
He stressed that overall he enjoyed every stop.
FOG AND THIN AIR
In Japan, Dodds hiked up 12,388-foot Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain. Weather conditions made the experience unforgettable.
A thick fog limited visibility to less than 25 feet, and the wind blew so hard that Dodds often had to bend over to keep from being blown down.
"I'm an avid hiker and those were the worst hiking conditions I've been in,'' Dodds said.
Dodds will also long remember the people of Japan.
"The Japanese people were so friendly and helpful. In general, the Japanese were the nicest people of any nation we visited,'' said Dodds, the son of Tom and Sue Garwood of Union.
People spoke English in most of the nations Dodds visited. Striking up conversations with people overseas was not difficult for Dodds because there were two things that people everywhere were interested in talking about soccer and their opposition to President George W. Bush.
"Anywhere you went you could always have a conversation about these topics,'' Dodds said.
Dodds found that many people overseas dislike the Bush administration's environmental policies and its treatment of Iraq.
Dodds also spent hours talking with people about soccer. Dodds, a soccer fan and player, was impressed but not surprised by the intense worldwide interest in the sport.
Soccer fever is particularly hot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where informal soccer games are played on its beaches from dawn until dusk. "That was incredible to see,'' Dodds said.
The EOU student's interest in soccer helped make him feel bonded to people throughout the world.
In China, Dodds watched a televised soccer game in a shack with two men who spoke no English. Dodds and the men communicated via motions, shouts and expressions.
"We didn't speak but we felt connected,'' he said.