27 May 2017: Knights Impact sailing for home

I can’t believe it’s almost over! Today has been a mellow day—luckily, because tomorrow morning will be a bit of a rush. We had Fathom cohort meetings in the morning where we learned about the total impact of our activities this past week and the overall total since Fathom started sailing last April. That was exciting. It’s easy to feel like one person can only do so much, but seeing the totals tells you that the effect of all those small individual efforts is cumulative in a powerful way. The only big question mark is the future of Fathom.

My students had lots of comments and opinions about Fathom’s marketing and decision-making when we got together for our final MGA cohort meeting just a couple of hours ago. I had prepared some traditional reflection questions—“what did you learn,” etc.—and got good answers to those, as expected, but also a more freewheeling discussion. Students know other students; they understand how to reach their peers and what’s needed to create student buy-in. They gave me detailed feedback about where they felt Fathom had fallen short and about what I and my colleagues could do to keep Knights Impact successful and growing. I have my marching orders for the fall semester for sure!

As for the impact travel experience, they were most impressed by the openness and welcoming attitude of the Dominican people. That topic came up over and over again in our discussion. Yesterday I told someone I met (a faculty member at another university) that I like to have a grand unifying theory of everything. My grand unifying theory about my students’ experience in the DR is that it’s all too easy to fear and mistrust the wider world. Because so many of them are working hard and spreading themselves thin to meet daily needs and advance their goals, having resources (of any kind) left over to extend to others can be difficult. And because Americans do tend to be very private (at least by Dominican standards), it’s unsurprising that they’d assume everyone is similar. As a private person, I was hesitant to enter strangers’ homes, not because I was afraid but because doing so felt disrespectful. I tried not to gawk around, take tons of pictures, or wander from room to room uninvited. Some of my fellow travelers did not share that approach; some also (I learned from the students today) were frank to the point of insult about the neighborhoods where we were working in Puerto Plata—that is, the word “ghetto” was used. One student said she’d never have gone into those neighborhoods if she’d had to decide to do so based on the feedback from some of the people we talked to. But the residents were willing to invite us in, let us use their bathrooms, share the fruit they’d grown, and work next to us (Fathom value: alongsidedness!) to improve their lives. And luckily my student is methodical about trying everything for herself and making up her own mind. I am glad they are learning about the diversity of the world and, just as importantly, about its openness. Learning to be careful is good but it can turn into a kind of paranoia if you are constantly told to be careful but never exposed to anything new to be careful about. Finding out firsthand that it is possible to be too careful, then, is a great lesson.

At the end of the meeting, the students were sweet enough to thank me for organizing the program and giving them the opportunity, but I told them to give themselves the credit. I’m an experienced traveler now; I grew up believing that travel was possible and desirable for me; I flew on a plane for the first time at 9 months, spent 3 weeks away from home when I was 13 and loved it, and went overseas for the first time at 22. I didn’t go through what some of them are going through now, getting their first taste of travel after (in some cases) nearly 3 decades of life and a background that never encouraged them to go far from home. Just boarding the ship is a breakthrough for them in a way that no travel has ever quite been for me.

The end of our meeting signaled the end of our official activities. The students probably went off for an afternoon beverage and I am having a “mango fizz” (mango juice, ginger ale, lime, and mint: delicious, try one) in my favorite spot, the Crow’s Nest. I need to pack my bag but I’m waiting till after dinner when my cabin will be cooler.

By this time tomorrow we will be almost back to Macon. Is it possible?

 

26 May 2017: Knights Impact goes to RePapel; departure from Amber Cove

Today was not an easy day. My group did the recycled paper activity at RePapel this morning: we were the last Fathom group to do so, because Fathom is disbanding (as is widely known) and RePapel is closing. When I was here in January, one of the NGO liaisons expressed worry about RePapel as being the project that would be most difficult to continue in Fathom’s absence. But I kept hoping something would come through to save it. It’s genuinely hard to think about: we will go home and go on with our regular middle-class lives but for the women who had come to rely on RePapel for employment and income, the future is bound to be uncertain. I have to admit that I always took the full-throated cheer and warm welcome of the RePapel ladies with a grain of salt. Was it genuine or were they putting on a show for us tourists? I still wonder a little but today it dawned on me that they got to come to work every day and feel special and valuable as well as useful and productive. There aren’t many jobs for women in Puerto Plata other than in the tourism industry, which requires more education than these women probably have, as well as access to transportation and child care. So RePapel was filling a gap on several levels. They really tried to put on a brave face for us, and it almost worked. At the end of our morning there—we made paper, smoothed dried sheets, rolled beads out of recycled magazines, and made jewelry out of our beads—Juanita, the most loud and cheerful of the group, led everyone in singing and dancing to “La Bamba” as they always do, and then the ladies sang another song that I recognized but couldn’t identify. All of a sudden I noticed that Altagracia, the quiet but smiling woman I remembered from last time, was crying, and then I was crying too. Most of us cried before we left. I hugged Altagracia and even though I know she didn’t understand me, I said “Don’t cry! You’re making me cry!” And now we are on the ship and the ladies are…who knows?

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Jasmine put a smile on for paper-making even though she does not like mornings.

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Jamia lifting out a fresh sheet of paper

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Stevanie and Garrett smoothing the sheets

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Juanita (white outfit & headband) leads the singing and dancing

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Garrett is getting into the groove

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One last song

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Me & Altagracia!

We did have an experience this afternoon that put a little balm on the pain of departure. Early in the week, the Fathom executives on board had mentioned that they wanted to meet with the university groups on board (Tuskeegee U. has 14 students here in addition to our 24). The idea disappeared after that initial mention and I assumed it wouldn’t happen after all. But in today’s Soundings appeared an invitation to an open meeting for all university students and educators. The meeting was led by Katie Dow—I think her title is “Fathom experience manager”—and a recent college grad turned impact guide, Paige. Middle Georgia State University showed up in force and I have rarely been prouder. The students got emotional as they talked about their experiences and how valuable this program has been to them. It was so validating of our work in offering the program but equally, it spoke well of their sincerity and open-heartedness in approaching the activities. I am excited for my last meeting with them tomorrow when I will ask them to talk about what they learned; I’m expecting some excellent reflections. I also met my counterpart from Tuskeegee and it is a little funny how similar we are professionally: both Associate Professors of English who have been Directors of International Programs for 2 years as one-person offices. She is eager to collaborate with MGA, which is awesome. So it’s not clear right now what will happen to the “Fathom experience” but it’s clear that Carnival Plc is not planning to abandon it. I’m still hopeful that it will evolve into something that can continue to be as transformative to future groups of students as this week has been to our current group.

So now we are sailing; everyone made it back on the ship on time and did not have their names called in the Roll Call of Shame before departure. The program is winding down. Tomorrow we have Fathom cohort meetings in the morning and meetings with our MGA cohorts in the afternoon. By voice vote my cohort decided they’d rather have a midafternoon meeting and then be at liberty till we disembark Sunday morning. A few people’s thoughts are turning toward home but I think most of us are determined to live in this moment a while longer.

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I was there!

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Still my favorite ship

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Casting off the lines

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Adios, Amber Cove

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Sailing away

25 May 2017: Knights Impact does Concrete Floors & Caribbean Culture

As promised, today was a big day! My cohort had wanted to do the “Concrete Floors in Community Homes” activity as a group but it filled up quickly. By chance, I was the only one who got a spot in it. So at 8:00 this morning I was back in my grubby clothes from Reforestation and rolling out on the bus toward a tiny neighborhood called San Marcos. To reach San Marcos we had to get off the bus on the side of the highway, more or less, and cross a swaying wooden footbridge to reach a dirt road lined with at most a dozen houses. We were working in 3 houses: two that had just one room each needing a floor, and a third that was getting concrete put in throughout the house. I ended up working in the third house. The facilitators introduced us to the owners of the houses, who were incredibly nice but a bit shy. One facilitator mentioned that San Marcos had never had such large groups of visitors before. I am sure they did not know what to make of us. But the owner of the house I worked in warmed up enough to want to show me a picture of his family on the wall, as well as the pigs he was raising in the back yard. I asked the facilitator how people in San Marcos provide for themselves and she said they might work in town but they also raise their own livestock, fruits, and vegetables. We saw cows, chickens, ducks, and a donkey during our morning there as well as the pigs.

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We got organized into a bucket brigade pretty quickly while a few volunteers mixed and shoveled the concrete in the middle of the dirt road (N. B.: This arrangement requires work to halt briefly when cows are coming through). Full buckets went in, empty buckets went out, and the few professional construction workers on the site spread and leveled the concrete as well as adding a layer of colored pigment over the smoothed concrete. This gentleman will have a great-looking yellow floor—in fact, probably already has it, by now, because another group was coming through in the afternoon to complete the work that we did not have time to finish. It was hard work passing the buckets and I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it is really rewarding to think that in just one day we hugely improved someone’s quality of life. Imagine how hard it would be to clean up after a flood—flooding happens here, and San Marcos is right up against a river—if you had dirt floors in your house. For that matter, how much harder is it to keep a clean house from day to day if floors are dirt? All the owners were very pleased as well as a little disbelieving. One woman said she didn’t believe she was really getting a concrete floor until the supplies started showing up. She said that politicians sometimes come to their neighborhood and make promises, and then nothing ever happens. That touched me as much as anything because I pride myself on living up to what I say I’m going to do. I’d like to meet the politician who could make an empty promise to a soft-spoken woman and her baby daughter living in a cinderblock house with a dirt floor—but that politician probably doesn’t want to meet me.

One downside to doing concrete floors is that one gets incredibly dirty. 50% sweat, 50% concrete smudges, and I even got some yellow coloring powder on the strap of my bag. Luckily I had time to shower, change, and eat lunch before reporting back to Amber Cove to leave for the Caribbean Culture tour. True confession about Caribbean Culture: when I did it in January I enjoyed it, but felt like the tour guide’s talk was not as in-depth as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, I recommended it to my students as the cultural activity for our group because it offered the most cultural/historical content in a fairly short timeframe. I ended up glad I stuck with it because we had an excellent tour guide today (shout out to Mr. Oscar Rodriguez!): funny, knowledgeable, open to questions, obviously enjoyed his work. We went to the San Felipe Fortress first but cut that a bit short because it was incredibly windy (the fort is right on the coast). I kept having to hold my dress down because I’m not ready for Puerto Plata to know me quite that well yet. Second stop was the town square and San Felipe cathedral, which I love. It came back to me in a flash that the last time I was here, the Christmas decorations were still up. We drank coconut water, bought souvenirs, and got to see a cigar-making demonstration (fun cigar fact: some of the best cigar wrapper leaves come from Connecticut). Then the last stop was at the gorgeous botanical garden owned by Rafy Vasquez, a Dominican-born, Canadian-educated artist whose family has owned his property for three generations. It was great to see everything again and hear about it from Oscar, who was agreeably critical of (1) Catholicism as a state religion, (2) people’s misunderstandings about voodoo, (3) Christopher Columbus, (4) corrupt bureaucracy, (5) Dominican drivers.

(N. B.: My experience suggests that sensible people in general should be critical of Dominican drivers.)

On the way back to the port we drove along Ocean View Avenue, known locally as the Malecon. Oscar called an audible and let us stop for pictures of the statue of Neptune that stands on a rock out in the water. That was cool enough, but the sunset was incredible and the beach is gorgeous. I almost didn’t get out and now I’m really glad I did.

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Puerto Plata central square–Plaza Independencia

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San Felipe Cathedral

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Fresh coconut water

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Last time I saw this gazebo it had Christmas lights on it.

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Look closely. Ice cream shop takes Bitcoin?

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Cigar-rolling demonstration

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Fort San Felipe

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Students at the fort

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Outside the fort (inside the bus)

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DR’s flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it.

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Sunset at the beach

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Students on the beach

 

Now it is after 10 p.m. and I am waiting on my laundry to dry while watching a Top Gear episode before bed. Tomorrow is our last activity; we sail around noon. Our time here goes so fast. I shed a few tears when we sailed away last time and I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow.

22¬-23 May 2017: Knights Impact At Sea & Arrival in the Dominican Republic

Yesterday on the ship flew by—or maybe sailed by? I started the day both yesterday and today meeting with my group of 9 students, who heroically got up on time for our 8:30 meeting both days. We followed that by meeting with our designated Fathom cohorts—a great experience for the students because they got to meet other people on the ship. There are people on board from all over and the students were particularly amazed by the variety of ages, nationalities, and professions. One student reported excitedly that she’d met a couple who were both doctors—a nephrologist and a pulmonologist. One of the highlights for me of leading these programs with students is that I never know what they’re going to find interesting or noteworthy. They started learning before we ever left home that the world—and even just the ship—is much more diverse than they realized.

In the afternoons we attended a training session on “creating retellable stories” (yesterday) and one on visual storytelling (today). Both had in common an emphasis on emotional impact. We learned a few simple guidelines that will make it easier to tell better stories and take better pictures. I always think it’s worth going to an hour-long session if I walk away with just one or two things I can remember and apply. Both of these sessions fit the bill; plus I got a free copy of the storytelling trainer’s book. Yay, swag!

Last night’s dinner in the Pacific Restaurant was more animated than Sunday’s as everyone is getting to know each other a little better and shaking off the fatigue of the trip to Miami. We had one student who got badly seasick Sunday night but was feeling better by noon yesterday. Everyone was happy to see her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dinner, although she did say she’d decided that cruise travel was not for her. In fact, most agreed they were ready to get off the ship and get into the next phase of the program. Incidentally, that student’s roommate is a hero for looking out for her when she was ill. Another upside to these programs is seeing the relationships that form among the students and how they look out for each other. They are so generous and compassionate and it’s great to see.

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(Fancy food from Pacific!)

Those who were tired of the ship last night only had a few more hours to wait as we arrived at Amber Cove around 11:00 this morning and they started letting people off at noon. Amber Cove is just as I left it; I even recognize a couple of the wait staff in Coco Caña (the poolside restaurant/bar). Only the weather is a little different: today it’s a little overcast and hazy, which I did not expect. But neither am I complaining. A bit of cloud cover keeps the heat down, even if there is still plenty of heat to go around. I have the afternoon “off” (i.e. I am catching up on email and blogging) and might even catch a little pool time while the sun is not absolutely blazing.

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Duke loves the ocean!

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Sunset at sea

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Amber Cove

21 May 2017: Knights Impact departure day

Today is the day! Last fall, my colleague Dr. John Girard first told me and Prof. Chris Tsavatewa about Fathom Impact Travel and the prospect of taking students on an international service-learning experience in the Dominican Republic. In January, I traveled with the Girards, Prof. T., and Drs. Keith and Melinda Moffett aboard the Fathom Adonia to explore the possibility firsthand. Today, 24 Middle Georgia State University students boarded Adonia to become the inaugural Knights Impact participants.

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Enjoying the Sail Away party

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Miami

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My favorite ship!

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Bye bye, USA!

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As I write we’ve been sailing for about 45 minutes, leaving PortMiami behind. I drove to Miami yesterday with Sheron Smith from Marketing & Communications. She will be documenting our activities to share with the university and the community. We arrived at the port at about 11:45 along with 6 students who had stayed at the same hotel we did. Yesterday, 4 of those 6 actually passed us on the highway and we all waved to each other. That was the highlight of our driving day! The highlight of today was seeing the last student through the check-in line and onto the ship. Departure day is challenging because so many things could go wrong: car trouble, flight delays, miscommunication…. The travel gods smiled and there were only a couple of minor hiccups.

We boarded with time to spare, everyone got lunch, and we were allowed into our cabins by about 2:00. I have an amazing cabin on this sailing: it’s a balcony cabin right on the front of the ship. So this is my view right now:IMG_7701

Not for the first time I have to say that as a work assignment, this is just not terrible.

I walked around the ship after lunch checking that everything was where I left it and taking some pictures for our social media. Only a few students have been up on deck this afternoon. I suspect many of them left for Miami in the wee small hours and have been taking a much-deserved nap. I’m eager to see everyone at dinner and find out their impressions so far. Now that everyone is safely on board I am excited too. It’s gratifying to see this project come to fruition. Hopefully this group will be the first of many, although after this time we will have to change to a different ship and itinerary. Fathom is changing its structure and the Adonia will no longer be doing dedicated impact travel cruises. That’s disappointing because this program is so good—and I really dig this ship! But we already have some plans for the next iteration. And because this is the last sailing to the DR, there is some extra excitement on board. The positive definitely outweighs the negative.

Almost time to get ready for dinner. We have to take a group picture this evening in our MGA shirts. I hope I do not look too sunburned and windblown from standing on the deck as we sailed away.

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 7: Final hours aboard Adonia, 7 January 2017

It’s 7:45 p.m. EST or 8:45 ship time as our clocks don’t go back till 2:00 a.m. We disembark in about 14 hours; my suitcase is already out in the hall for pickup. Apparently they are strict about not allowing people to carry off their own luggage. I have left out my clothes and minimal toiletries for in the morning. The toiletries and my pajamas may be riding home in my laptop bag. Duly noted for next time. Meanwhile, we are sailing under/next to a thunderstorm. The clouds look very low over the ocean and it seems windy, yet the water is calmer than it was yesterday (at least so far). Lightning over the water is pretty incredible!

This morning I finally got to go to a yoga class (worth the wait) and we all attended our final cohort meetings. Seeing the statistics from our sailing as well as the overall numbers of people this program has helped since its inception in April 2016 was exciting. Each individual’s contribution might seem small but it all adds up. For example, by the end of May 2017 (after our students’ sailing), the people enrolled in Community English will have received a total of 160 hours of tutoring from native English speakers. That’s a huge supplement to the instruction they’re already getting from Entrena (the organization that coordinates Community English) since interaction with native speakers is so important for language development. It’s just gratifying to see the ways in which our small efforts fit into this larger movement to help people improve their lives.

In the afternoon my colleague and I spent about 3 hours working on an application, several supporting documents (program guide, cost breakdown, faculty/staff information), and an initial round of promotional emails for what is now officially going to launch as Knights Impact as soon as we get back to campus (Monday) and get a website put together. It’s going to be a fast and furious 6 weeks of recruiting as our deadline is February 20. That’s not much time but we have a great collaboration going among all the MGA people who came on this trip and will be working together to get students committed.

For now I am going to enjoy listening to the ocean a little longer before I go to bed. We have to be out of our cabins at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow so the morning will be a little hectic. Stay tuned!


Coda: the ocean turned rough around 3 a.m. so we all had an interesting night’s sleep with our clothes hangers rattling around! We were off the ship at 9:30 and en route to Macon by 11:00, taking turns driving and catching naps. Now it’s Monday morning and I’m back at work in 28-degree weather. Going from 28 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Fahrenheit is a bit of a shock!

How about some pictures from around the ship to wrap things up?

View from my balcony while at sea

View from my balcony while at sea

My cabin (mostly tidy)

My cabin (mostly tidy)

My bathroom (less tidy; sorry!)

My bathroom (less tidy; sorry!)

The Conservatory buffet restaurant

The Conservatory buffet restaurant

Ping-pong on the Lido Deck

Ping-pong on the Lido Deck

Lido Deck in full swing

Lido Deck in full swing

My favorite place on the ship, the Crow's Nest, which happens to be on 10 Forward (for all you Trekkies out there)

My favorite place on the ship, the Crow’s Nest, which happens to be on 10 Forward (for all you Trekkies out there)

Reception desk

Reception desk

Shops (and Christmas decor still up)

Shops (and Christmas decor still up)

The Pacific restaurant where we ate dinner every night

The Pacific restaurant where we ate dinner every night

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 6: Departure from Amber Cove—6 January 2017

This is a sad day, friends. The Dominican Republic is behind me (for now). I am looking forward to getting home—and I’m already happy to be back on the open ocean—but it was surprisingly hard to leave Amber Cove this afternoon.

Most of my colleagues either had impact activities this morning or went out on their own. I was feeling too nervous about getting back to the ship on time as we’d been told very sternly that they would take up the gangway at 11:45. So I limited my adventuring to Amber Cove: cappuccino at El Cibao, people-watching by the pool, picking out souvenirs for Daniel, and studying today’s neighbor, the Carnival Pride. At lunchtime I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who was very surprised I’d never cruised before. “I thought everyone had been on a cruise by now,” he said. “Well, now I have,” I told him. He confirmed something I suspected: that the Adonia is enjoyable in part because it actually feels like a ship. As he put it, the larger ships like the Pride feel like New York hotels. I can only imagine! I’ve also learned that it’s unusual for ships to stay in port for more than one night, or two at the most. Our neighbor yesterday arrived around 10 a.m. and was sailing away by 6:30 p.m. The Pride arrived at 7:00 and people were already getting back on board by the time we sailed (although they may just have been going back for lunch).

As it happened, our sailing was delayed about 90 minutes due to a medical emergency. I’m not sure exactly what happened but a passenger was evaluated by the ship’s doctors and they decided to admit him to hospital in Puerto Plata rather than having him sail back with us. An ambulance sat on the dock for quite a while and finally left followed by a security cart with the passenger’s luggage. I hope he is okay.  That’s a daunting prospect but I know the medical care on the ship is pretty comprehensive, so the problem must have been serious if they couldn’t treat it on board.

As soon as the ambulance pulled away, the gangway was removed and the signal given to undo the ropes that tied us to the dock. We moved away backwards—I was not entirely sure ships could back up, but neither did I think a tugboat could budge us—and everyone waved goodbye to the Pride passengers, the employees on the dock, and Amber Cove. I watched our departure from my balcony and probably got more sunburned doing that than I have on any of the impact activities! Once we got beyond the cove we turned (slightly weird feeling) and were off into the Atlantic, still on course for an on-time arrival in Miami on Sunday morning. I’d like to say I immediately headed to an educational and enlightening activity but in fact I took a nap!

Tonight we meet with Katie, Fathom’s programming manager, to discuss the student program in May. I’ve been working on and off all day on the program documentation and I am increasingly excited to start promoting everything to students while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Blog break for now. The computer screen in front of me and the ocean out the window to my right are getting my inner ear a little confused.


. . . Back after dinner with a steadier head now that we’ve been sailing a bit longer. Our meeting with Katie was excellent. She gave us some good suggestions about how to structure our program so that it meshes well with Fathom’s setup and about the best ways to get specific requests fulfilled. I’m sure we’ll be in constant contact with Fathom for the next couple of months as we finalize everything. Meanwhile we already have our disembarkation instructions for Sunday morning. Because we arrive into port so early, we have to put our luggage out for pickup tomorrow evening by 9 p.m. at the latest. Then we disembark in groups. Our group goes at 10:00 a.m., then we get the shuttle van back to our parking lot and on to Macon. Tomorrow we’ll attend a last activity or two and spend the rest of the day completing the program documentation so that we are ready to start promotions with a splash on Monday.

Speaking of a splash, I took pictures in Amber Cove and of our departure this afternoon:

I sit in the cheap seats at the pool!

I sit in the cheap seats at the pool!

I'm pretty proud of this photo.

I’m pretty proud of this photo.

 

Getting that last bit of pool time.

Getting that last bit of pool time.

Casting off lines...

Casting off lines…

Adios to the pilot and we are out to sea!

Adios to the pilot and we are out to sea!

The view from my balcony as we sailed.

The view from my balcony as we sailed.

Part of Amber Cove from the port side observation deck.

Part of Amber Cove from the port side observation deck.

How to slack off when you work on a ship--this Carnival Pride employee found a hiding place.

How to slack off when you work on a ship–this Carnival Pride employee found a hiding place.

From the starboard side observation deck while still in port.

From the starboard side observation deck while still in port.

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 2: Sea Day—A full day of formative activities

I went to sleep with my curtains open and woke up around 6:30; the sky was just getting light and a ship was passing.

Ships passing in the night?

Ships passing in the night?

Got up, closed the curtains, went back to sleep and slept right through my alarm! Lesson 1: turn up the volume on your phone’s alarm because the background noise of the ship will drown it right out. Managed to be up, showered, and dressed for 9:30 a.m. yoga class but I was thwarted because the class was full! Lesson 2: Show up early if you want to do yoga. This is what I mean when I say travel is full of learning experiences. Instead of yoga I went to a basic Spanish class, which was fun. I learned to say “I am a vegetarian” (Soy vegetariana) and “Is there wi-fi?” (Hay wifi?) and “I like to buy shoes” (Me gusta comprar zapatos). I discovered that in 5 minutes I can write down 33 Spanish words that I know, but at least one of them will be wrong (“socks” is “calcetines,” not “calcinetes”). DULY NOTED.

My second stop was the initial meeting of my impact cohort with our impact guide. Fathom divides its travelers into small groups called “cohorts” to learn about impact travel and the history of the destination and then to discuss and reflect at the end of the program. We met our cohort mates and discussed the following questions:

  • What was the last time you were bold?
  • What is the most interesting fact about you?
  • What is the secret to happiness?

I met a great 14-year-old young man named Alex from Los Angeles who said that coming on this cruise, which he didn’t know much about, was his most recent boldness. He is very sporty and social and well spoken. I was impressed at his openness to the experience. His attitude set a tone for me by reminding me that we get out of our experiences what we put into them. The more you offer, the more you receive. The presentation went on with our impact guide Katie discussing Fathom’s values and goals. I learned a new word, eudaimonia, which means “human flourishing,” and which Fathom tries to develop in people by encouraging us to pursue our personal best, learn new skills and insights, and doing what we believe in. I love this idea and I think it’s a great way to talk about the different forms of growth that we achieve through different experiences.

Next stop: “Empowering English” training session to get ready for community English teaching tomorrow, which I am incredibly excited about. We learned about “language empathy”—how challenging and frustrating a language barrier is—and were reminded to be encouraging, outgoing, and (when necessary) silly in order to communicate with the people we’ll be tutoring. The trainer started the session by asking us to think of an animal and then represent that animal without using any words or sounds. So we all had to act like our chosen animals. I convincingly impersonated a cat and filed that information away for later use. We got to see the curriculum we’ll be using and learn about the situations in which we’ll be teaching (probably one-on-one in people’s homes). Still a little nervous about teaching someone English one-on-one but also really eager to try it.

After lunch with our group I went to one more session, called “The Story of You.” This workshop was focused on storytelling and how to tune up a personal story to create a more compelling and concise message. To a retired teacher named Anne I told a story from my study abroad program as a student; then I wrote an outline, noted details, and re-told the improved story to Andrea, an IT consultant. She told me a great story about quitting her job to start her own business; Anne told me a similarly compelling tale of learning that she did not (thank goodness) have pancreatic cancer but changing her life because it was suspected. The exercise required a good bit of work and thought but the results were impressive. More good evidence for the validity of the writing process and for the value of drafting and peer feedback. I could definitely see using this model to teach narrative writing in a composition class.

Finally I had time for a little nap, which was blissful. The motion of the ship makes for good sleeping! We reconvened for dinner in the Pacific Restaurant where I ate a delicious papaya salad with arugula, a cauliflower tikka, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I am trying not to go crazy eating a lot but it’s a challenge—the food is delicious. I have been really impressed by the veggie options so far; looking at my friends’ plates, the meats look great too. Lamb chops and chicken were both available tonight; last night there was steak; overall I can promise that you will not go hungry even if you are particular. I won’t name names but one of our group is a very picky eater and this person has been enjoying the meals too.

As I hustled to and fro today I took almost no pictures! Tomorrow we’ll dock in Amber Cove around noon (I think) and I will set off to Community English as soon as we leave the ship. Will definitely take pics tomorrow; in fact, I must remember to charge my camera tomorrow (just been using my phone so far). On tap tomorrow morning: yoga at 7:30, an introduction to the DR at 10:15, and then we start the next phase of this adventure.

Something new to geek out about: nautical flags!

Something new to geek out about: nautical flags!

Travel tips #2: the return flight from Europe

[written on board DL0029 LHR –> ATL, 18 Feb. 2016]

The best and worst thing about the flight back from Europe is that it takes place in a permanent afternoon. You take off in the afternoon and somehow (i.e., flying west) it is still afternoon when you land. And yet, the return flight takes at least an hour longer because it goes against the jet stream. So the length of the flight is tiresome: I can’t deny it. It’s also not as neatly timed as the “overnight” flight to Europe that proceeds through departure, dinner, bedtime, and breakfast. Today I left Heathrow at 12:30 p.m. and will land in Atlanta at about 5:30 p.m. having flown for about 9 hours.  If you think that’s weird, on some Asian routes that cross the date line, it’s possible to arrive before you left!

I don’t have such a good system for managing the return flight but here are my best tips so far:
— Some people will tell you to try not to sleep at all. I’d say don’t sleep through the whole flight, but don’t worry about passing the time by taking a couple of naps, especially at the beginning of the flight when it’s early morning at your destination. I’m planning to stay awake through the last couple hours of this flight and the shuttle ride home, then go to bed at my usual time.
— 9 hours is 4 movies plus your naps, or 2 movies, naps, and a book. Bring a book. (I’m an English professor; did you think I wasn’t going to say “Bring a book”?) Get a non-U.S. newspaper from your departure point or from the flight attendant. It also makes a good souvenir.
— Don’t drink alcohol; do drink water. Some airlines offer it around regularly. Drink all they give you. Some will leave the water & soft drinks out for passengers to help themselves. Help yourself. I also drink a lot of coffee on these flights. The dry air gives me a slight headache but water, coffee, and Tylenol keep it at bay. 
— Eastbound beauty tips continue to apply. Moisturizer & lip balm till about an hour before landing, then clean face & do makeup. Brush your teeth whenever they start to feel unsavory. It’s refreshing and gives you something to do.
— Been thinking about this one since I wrote my last post, and I’ve decided: on long flights in general, wear comfortable shoes and then don’t take them off. Your feet will swell so it’s good to have shoes you can loosen, but I have had it happen that I’ve taken off my shoes & barely gotten them back on! 

All in all, the return flight is a tougher flying experience but an easier arrival experience. You’re coming home to a familiar environment and hopefully you can ease back into your regular life rather than hitting the ground running as we do on trips. 

Finally, to all you Fitbit wearers out there, sorry. You’re not getting your 10,000 steps today.

Francophile Turns Anglophile: Rage, Rage Against the Transatlantic Flight

The Francophile writes today from the opposite side of the Channel: Northampton University in the UK. I am here in my capacity as Director of International Programs to start the process of building study abroad, student exchange, and faculty exchange opportunities between NU students and MGA students. After leaving Atlanta at 8:00 EST last night, I arrived at Heathrow at 9:00 GMT this morning. Obviously I’m a little jet-lagged but trying to follow my own best advice: coffee up, power through, no naps! This trip is special for me as it’s the first time I’ve traveled on university business rather than leading students or going to a conference. I’m on my own–which is fine, solo travel doesn’t bother me*–and since I didn’t know exactly what awaited me at the destination, I wanted to arrive looking and feeling a little better than I sometimes do after crossing the Atlantic. During the last hour of the flight (which seems to last a week) I started thinking about making a list of tips & tricks for flying to Europe and avoiding the sensation of having crawled there on one’s face. Students sometimes ask me about the flight–how to avoid being scared/nervous/crippled by jet lag–so here are my best ideas based on very recent experience (i.e., I got off the plane only about 5 hours ago).

  • A 7- to 8-hour transatlantic flight has a rhythm to it almost like the flight attendants are following a script. You’ll be more comfortable if you know what’s coming:
    1. Boarding: take your seat, stow your carry-on(s), get out things you’re going to use so that you’re not constantly rooting around in your bag. If your flight isn’t full, claim two or three seats (if you can) to stretch out and sleep or at least avoid “manspreading” by your seatmates.**
    2. Snacks & drinks: as soon as the flight crosses the 10,000 foot threshhold, the flight attendants will give everybody hot towels to wipe their hands with (even though these are paper towels, not real ones, it’s pleasant), then serve a drink and a snack such as pretzels or peanuts. Alcoholic drinks are usually free of charge on international flights but I hew to the wisdom of avoiding alcohol when flying. It’s too dehydrating and the altitude may cause the alcohol to affect you differently.
    3. Meal service: This item is part 3 of the script but it actually requires you to take action before the day of your flight. Here goes: Order a specialty meal. I became a vegetarian in October so I ordered a vegetarian meal. The conventional wisdom seems to be true: the specialized meals are better than the standard ones. Equally important, they distribute the specialized meals first, so you never have to be the last person waiting to be served dinner as the meal cart starts waaaaaay at the other end of the plane. (If you’ve changed seats per #1 above, just make sure the flight attendant can find you to give you your meal.)
    4. Sleepy time: After dinner is cleared away, the flight attendants will turn down the cabin lights and everyone will (hopefully) settle in for a few hours’ sleep. Resist the urge to watch 3 movies in a row. If you can manage to sleep from the moment the lights go down to the moment they’re turned back on again for the morning snack, you’ll get 4-5 hours of rest and feel, frankly, a LOT sharper than I do right now. (I slept about 2.5 hours and I feel pleasant but not very smart.)
    5. Morning snack: About 90 minutes before landing, the lights come on and the attendants serve a snack/light breakfast along with coffee/tea/juice. You’re almost there!
  • To make the most of the experience outlined above:
    • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you’re awake, you should be drinking some water. 8 ounces per hour is a good guideline that I’ve heard.
    • Use the earplugs and eye mask the airline (hopefully) provides, or bring your own. The sensory deprivation aids sleep.
    • Women and other wearers of cosmetics, watch some YouTube videos of “in-flight beauty routines” and create your own system. On this flight I took my make-up off once the plane was in the air, put on moisturizer, kept reapplying lip balm & hand cream, and then did fresh makeup before landing. (Michelle Phan does about 15 more steps than that.) The passport control staff can’t possibly care but it at least makes me feel better to know I’m not entering a foreign country looking like a smudgy greaseball.
    • Forget what time it is at home. No need to think about that unless you’re calling home. Reset your watch or phone to the time at your destination.
    • Corollary to the above: when the lights come on near the end of the flight, it’s morning whether you like it or not. Get ready to tough it out and…
    • NO NAPS. This rule is my most powerful anti-jet-lag trick. I didn’t sleep in the cab on the way here from Heathrow; I’m definitely not going to lie down this afternoon. If I go to bed around 8:00 tonight I will sleep like a rock and wake up on UK time tomorrow with very little trouble. 

So those are my best transatlantic flight survival tips. Tune in next time to learn more about Northampton U., my new friends/colleagues here, and maybe some Ways to Tell You’re In England.

*Except that I miss Daniel!
**If you are a man and you don’t know what “manspreading” is, hie thee to the nearest Google. Women will thank you.