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Semester at Sea

Semester at Sea
Xavier University

When assistant philosophy professor Steve Frankel arrived at Xavier in 2003—fresh from a four-year stint teaching philosophy and European culture at the American University of Paris—he thought his international days were over. Wrong. 

In August, he packed up his family and boarded a ship for a semester-long program at sea. The program took him to 10 countries and dozens of cities from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Europe. The ship stayed five days in each port, allowing the students and Frankel’s family time to check out the culture, meet the people and sample the local modes of transportation—elephants in Thailand, camels in Egypt and a Jeep in the desert dunes.

“The idea behind the trip is to study about these places before you go into port so you know about the architecture, art, history, culture. I taught about the political philosophy, ethics, and religion and philosophy of each place.”

“With such long tracks at sea, teaching class was like sitting down with a bunch of friends and talking about books I enjoy reading. I didn’t expect teaching to be such a pleasant experience.”

“The best way to examine your own beliefs is to confront radically diverse cultures and people. We took a trip down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and talked to the monks about the differences between religions. It gave us a lens to think about the differences between those cultures and perspectives.”

“Before we’d go into these countries, we’d have a debriefing from the State Department and they’d tell us things like, ‘Don’t bring up Tibet in China because you will be arrested and we may not be able to get you out.’ ”

“One thing I learned is to take much less for granted about our country and what we stand for—the values of individual freedom and equality. Those principles aren’t readily embraced around the world. We went into places where the environmental degradation was almost beyond belief. I was shocked by the amount of poverty in India, and the people’s attitude toward poverty. The caste system shocked us, too. So I began to appreciate this American spirit.”

“Going through the Gulf of Aden off Somalia they pulled everybody off the decks and floored it because there were pirates in the area. But there was a NATO fleet that followed us to Turkey.”

“The trip helped me to see more clearly the value of study abroad, especially the interaction with the citizens. It forces you to think about who you are. You have to start explaining America and what it means to be American to them, and that is a very healthy activity to engage in and a good introduction to philosophy.”

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