January 2 – 5: Embarkation and Departure

On Tuesday, January 2, we spent the morning repacking. We each have a single wheeled duffel, a carry-on bag, and a daypack. Last time we each had an additional wheeled duffle but 3 bags with only 2 hands was one too many! If Summer at Sea happens, we will be traveling from the end of May through June on the Peace Boat through the fjords of Norway to Svalbard and on to Iceland, so we have packed for the equator to the Arctic and have gotten pretty good at utilizing every available square inch. 

After lunch, we Ubered to Cruise Terminal 3 at Port Rashid where we went through registration and security to board the MV World Odyssey, our home for the next 4 months. You can find the location of our ship any time by looking at:  https://www.vesselfinder.com/vessels/details/9141807

Being on the ship again felt like coming home – many of the crew are familiar and of course the layout, the food, the smells, and sounds of the ship are just as we left it three years ago. Orientation did give us an opportunity to unpack and get settled. We have been given a larger cabin than on our last voyage and have an additional 40 sqft of space including a couch/sitting area and a bathtub! 

Initial introductions were made on Tuesday, followed by two days of staff and faculty (staculty) orientation and training. There was discussion of responsibilities and ways to support the students and each other. A ‘living/learning’ community can be enriching but may also be complicated. We talked about everything from mental health (ours and theirs) to community values and expectations to IT connectivity. After the second training day, we went to a local ‘hypermart’ to pick up a few items we were missing.

Thursday the 5th, the students and LifeLong Learners (LLLs) boarded the ship. The level of excitement rose with each new passenger! Most of the students stopped to admire their first view of the ship and take photos. She is an impressive sight!

The students have so much excitement and energy! They arrived in groups of two or five or more, in taxis and Ubers. They said tearful goodbyes with parents, who weren’t allowed past the security gate. They clambered up the stairs with their bags and wandered around grinning, looking a bit lost and also ready for adventure.

We have 568 students: 510 undergrads, 45 gap-year students, and 13 post-grads. They come to us from 230 different universities in 27 countries and 48 US states. Women outnumber men by almost 4 to 1. They tend to be great students: the average GPA is 3.52.

Once everybody was aboard, we had a lifeboat drill, which requires closed toe shoes, long pants, long sleeve shirt or sweater, a hat, medications, and your life jacket. Maritime safety regulations require that these be done about every six weeks. It’s no fun. A very loud alarm sounds 7 times and everybody proceeds to their assigned “muster station” on the lifeboat deck. Men line up against the bulkhead with women (and children) in front. Every single person on the ship must be accounted for one by one. It’s kind of grim.

After the lifeboat drill, we had dinner and then went up on deck to watch the crew cast off mooring lines and the ship sailed off past the glittering city lights and out through the harbor. A group of parents and family members stood at the barricade, waving phone flashlights and shouting emotional farewells.  Students howled back. The night was cloudy, with the moon glowing through in the east. The sea was very calm, almost like glass. We slipped quietly into the dark waters of the Persian Gulf.

All 600 of us crammed into the big auditorium in the bow for a welcome by the Deans. Students were very excited and rowdy, but we were pretty spent after getting here and sitting through the long orientation.

And we’re off!

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