Friday Harbor School District students, Natalie and Olivia Meenan, are exploring the world, literally. Along with their parents, Karen and Rich Meenan, they have embarked on a four-month voyage around the world, stopping in Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and Germany.
They are part of Semester at Sea, a shipboard education program sponsored by Colorado State University. They are traveling with nearly 600 college students representing 86 different countries, 30 faculty and their children, several adult “lifelong learners,” and many staff members. College classes are held while the ship is at sea in fields as diverse as oceanography, sociology, business, and political science, all with an eye towards comparative, cross-cultural and globalization issues.
As a Friday Harbor High School student, Natalie is able to take courses right alongside the college students.
“With my classes, and meeting students from all over the world, and the trips we take, I feel like I’m really gaining a new perspective on the world, on globalization, and on poverty and inequality,” she said. “I hope that someday I can work in foreign service.”
When the ship is at port, usually for five or six days, the Meenans are free to explore their surroundings. They spent the night at a Buddhist monastery in Japan, learning meditation and participating in religious ceremonies with monks. They’ve explored Saigon and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, learning about the war and why the Vietnamese call it the American War. They visited rural villages and took a hot air balloon ride over the pagodas in Myanmar.
“But my favorite trip so far has been to see the pandas in China,” said Olivia, a Friday Harbor Middle School student. With her family and several other “SASers,” she visited the Panda Research Center, a world-renowned site of research and panda breeding, as the panda population in China dwindles.
Service projects are a large component of many SAS-sponsored trips. On “Impact trips,“ voyagers have the opportunity to visit schools, orphanages and senior-care centers, spending a day, or even a week, helping the residents and staff. Activities may include teaching English, providing the labor to improve the facilities in some way, or simply playing with the children.
“I like the impact trips,” said Olivia. “I like to meet the kids, and see if we can help them.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Natalie. “I would love to do it again.”