Lee Ryan Miller

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Lee's Adventures on Semester at Sea ®


Excerpt from a journal entry dated April 22, 2003

Yesterday it began to get cold.  Really cold.  Not just the damp coldness that we experienced in Korea.  It actually began to snow.  

The sea started to get rough last night.  For the first time in months, I took a seasickness pill.  However rough it was last night, today it was much worse.  We were sailing in the midst of a severe storm.  When I woke up, the ship was rocking so violently that I thought I might fall out of bed.  I could hear the crash of doors slamming and items falling in other cabins.  Things were battened down pretty well in my own cabin, but I could still hear the items hanging in my closet smacking against the closet walls and the door.

Seward Alaska Pictures Journal Semester At Sea Voyage Institute Shipboard Education University Pittsburgh Lee Ryan Miller Political Science Study Fun Sailing Traveling Semester At Sea Voyage Institute Shipboard Education University Pittsburgh Lee Ryan Miller
Soon after leaving each port, we had a lifeboat drill. 
The drill in this photo occurred after our departure from Osaka.

The wind outside howled and shrieked.  The ship creaked and groaned in response.  I began to wonder whether our old ship would hold together with so much stress.  The thought of boarding a lifeboat in such conditions scared the hell out of me.

Today was an A day.  I had Core at 9:20 and then taught Global Inequality at 12:55.  I went down to the Harbor Grill to get something to eat.  It lies two decks below me, on Promenade Deck, at the stern of the ship.  One cannot go directly down there; the stairs just outside my door go down only one deck, to Boat Deck.  Usually, I take the interior stairs to boat deck and the exterior stairs to Promenade Deck.  Today I didn’t want to go outside in the howling wind and snow, so I took the stairs in the back of classroom 1 that lead to the back of the Harbor Grill.  There was a class in session, and I tried to be quiet.

I got a quick breakfast.  I set my tray down on the table, and went to get a cup of tea.  The ship was rocking so much that I feared that my tray would end up on the floor before I returned.  I hurried back just in time.

After breakfast, I returned to my cabin.  The rocking got worse.  I had to hold tightly to the railings in the hallways and onto the stairs, lest I tumble onto the floor.

I headed for the bathroom to get ready for class.  Using the toilet was tough.  It wasn’t easy taking aim with one hand and holding onto the wall with the other.  I felt that I really needed two hands to hang onto the wall to keep from falling down.


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Taking a shower was a challenge as well.  It was hard to keep the curtain closed, so that the water didn’t spray all over the bathroom.  My towel got all wet.  On the other hand, I discovered a hidden virtue of my tiny shower:  I could brace myself easily against the rocking because the walls were so close to my body.

Somehow I got ready for class and made it down to the Union for Core.  Steve Crosby’s students were putting on scenes from plays from different countries on our itinerary.  I was amazed that they were able to pull it off.  I was happy to be sitting on the floor.  No fear of falling out of my chair.

I was beginning to feel seasick, despite the Sea Calm pill I had taken with breakfast.  I climbed back into bed.  Lying down seemed to be the most comfortable position.  I got up when Francis, my cabin steward, came to clean the room.  He told me that he hadn’t been able to sleep the previous night, due to the rocking of the ship.  I was glad that I had been able to sleep through much of it.

I went down to the Union and did some grading.  I lay down on one of the benches and graded some papers.  I did this for an hour and then returned to my cabin for a short nap before lunch.

I decided to try the Hamilton Dining Room for lunch. Unlike the Harbor Grill, it is located in the center of the ship, and just above the water line, so I thought that the rocking there might be less severe.  I’m not sure whether or not my logic was correct, but the rocking there was pretty intense.  I asked someone to hang onto my tray, which I had set on the table, while I got a cup of tea.  Had I not made this request, my tray would have ended up on the floor.

I got a great view of the sea from the window beside my table.  Huge gray waves crashed against the window.  Professor Terri Cook and her two-year-old son Logan sat at my table.  Logan didn’t seem to be bothered by the rocking.  I was feeling rather queasy.  After lunch, I climbed the stairs early to my classroom.  I put a message on the board that class was cancelled, and that the students could turn in any remaining assignments to me at 5:00 p.m. on the second April 23.  (We will have two April 23rds this year.  We get the same day a second time when we cross the international date line.)

I sat on the floor of my classroom and waited until the start time of my class, just in case any students showed up to turn in or pick up assignments.  Not very many showed up that day.  Perhaps a quarter of the class at most.  As each student entered, s/he heard a voice say, “Class is cancelled.”  The students looked around, trying to find the sources of the voice.  It took them a moment to notice me sitting on the floor just inside the doorway.  Had I not felt so awful, I would have laughed.

At 1255 hours, the start time for my class, I climbed with difficulty to my feet and made my way back to my cabin.  I got into my sweats and climbed back into bed for a long nap.  The seasickness medicine was making me drowsy.  As I dozed off, I hoped that I would feel less queasy upon awakening.  I felt better after my nap, but felt sick as soon as I tried to get out of bed.  So I stayed in bed.  I wrote in my journal, and did some grading.

I got up briefly for dinner.  I didn’t feel well enough to stay.  I made a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and some tea.  I brought them up to my cabin.  I ate sitting on the floor, and then climbed back into bed.  I continued grading.

Most nights, videos are played on the shipboard closed circuit TV system.  This night the video was “The Perfect Storm” (a film about a New England fishing boat that gets caught in a hurricane).

Excerpt from a journal entry dated April 24, 2003

The seas have been a bit calmer.  Very rough, but not so rough as the day of the storm.  Barely bearable.

Yesterday was Wednesday April 23.  So was the day before yesterday.  We crossed the international date line.  What a strange feeling of déjà vu.

Yesterday also was the Ambassador’s Ball.  The $20 ticket price goes to Students of Service, an organization that makes cash and merchandise donations to charities in the ports that SAS visits.  On several of the trips that I led, such as the one to the favela in Brazil and Operation Hunger in South Africa, I was responsible for delivering donations from Students of Service.

Students and faculty dressed up in their finest outfits and had the best meal on the ship, (except perhaps for the captain’s dinner).  There was also a slide show of pictures from our voyage and a dance.

The slide show spurred me to reflect a bit upon my experiences aboard the ship.  This trip has been such a whirlwind that I have not had much time for reflection.  It occurred to me that I’ve written in my journal a lot about my experiences in the various ports, but very little about my shipboard experiences.  I think it is sad that the day-to-day stuff has fallen by the wayside.  There have been some very poignant moments aboard the ship, but they often seem mundane in comparison to the much more alien things I have encountered in foreign lands.  The ship too often seems like a tiny outpost of the United States.

It is not, of course.  Life aboard the SS Universe Explorer in many ways is alien from life back home.  But it is similar enough on a superficial level that the fundamental differences often go unnoticed. 

Let me give you an example.  On the first day of class after leaving a port, I ask the students in my class on the politics of global inequality to describe the inequality that they observed in the previous port.  In places like Brazil, South Africa, and India, no one had much trouble identifying examples of inequality.  For example, after leaving Cape Town, students shared their observations about the contrast between the wealthy white enclaves that they visited and the dire poverty of the black townships. 

“White people live pretty much like middle class and rich people in the US,” a student remarked.  “But it was pretty disturbing to see how all the people in the restaurants were white, and the people serving them were all black.  White people also have black servants cleaning up for them at their homes.  It is never the other way around.”

I asked the students if they had ever observed a similar phenomenon elsewhere.  The answers:  Brazil, the Bahamas, and even Cuba.  I asked whether anyone could come up with another example.  The class fell silent.

“How about on the ship?” I suggested.

The students’ eyes opened wide.  It had never occurred to them that we are indeed a microcosm of the very inequality that we are studying.

Most of the students, faculty, and staff are white.  Most of us come from middle class or rich backgrounds, and most of us are from the United States or other wealthy countries.  Most of the crewmembers on the ship are poor men with dark skins.  They leave their families behind for months at a time, and work twelve hours or more per day, seven days per week.  The majority come from the Philippines, although there are crew members from a dozen other poor countries.  It is these men who cook our food, wash our dishes, change our linens, wash our clothes, and do a whole host of other things that are too often overlooked as we focus our attention so intently upon the inequality that exists outside our ship.

Strange how the inequality close to home so easily goes unnoticed.

Excerpt from a journal entry dated April 28, 2003

I stayed up late grading last night.  I couldn’t fall asleep for some reason, so I just kept grading until I got sleepy.  That was around 1:30 a.m.

 Last night we had a three-hour time change in preparation for our arrival in Alaska.  So I went to sleep at 4:30 a.m.  I was awakened by hammering at 8:30 a.m.  Crew members were repairing something on the deck above, outside my cabin window.  I tried to fall back asleep, but the hammer continued intermittently for more than half an hour.  I called the Purser’s Office, and was told that the crew had to continue with their normal maintenance schedule, regardless of the time change.  Soon thereafter, the hammering was replaced by the whine of power tools.  I gave up any hope of falling back to sleep and got up for the day.  But I did write a note to George, the Assistant Dean.  George is responsible for communications between SAS personnel and the ship personnel.  It read something like this:

Seward Alaska Pictures Journal Semester At Sea Voyage Institute Shipboard Education University Pittsburgh Lee Ryan Miller Political Science Study Fun Sailing Traveling Semester At Sea Voyage Institute Shipboard Education University Pittsburgh Lee Ryan Miller
We sailed past many of the Aleutian Islands, a chain of 
volcanic islands to the west of Alaska.

Dear George,

Please thank the captain for the crew’s assistance in getting accustomed to the time change.  Three hours is a big jump, and had I not been awakened by hammering at 8:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. by my body clock), I would have found the transition much more difficult.

Lee Miller

George has an outrageous sense of humor, and I eagerly await his response.

As we sailed along the coast of Alaska, the scenery was breathtaking.  We passed tons of snow-capped volcanoes and glaciers.  The weather had cleared up, giving us a great view.  I spent most of my time grading, but I took periodic breaks to stroll on deck and take a look at the scenery.

Well, it is past 11:00 p.m.—2100 hours.  I have to get up early to go through US customs and immigration (7:00 a.m.), so I’d better get some sleep.  I didn’t get much last night.

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