CSU staffers take family around the world with Semester at Sea

Traveling around the world is even more exciting when you can take your whole family along for the adventure.

Seng family at the Great Wall of China
The Seng family hiking the Great Wall of China. Left to right: Stephanie, daughter Olivia, husband Chris, and sons Jonah and Will.

When invited to serve as staff members on the Spring 2017 voyage of Semester at Sea, Stephanie and Chris Seng jumped at the opportunity. All three of their college-aged children applied for the voyage and are now participating as students taking classes.

Stephanie Seng, director of the Center for Family and Couple Therapy, part of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, describes the experience so far.

Q. How did you decide to go on Semester at Sea and why?

For years we have known about Semester at Sea as we have enjoyed voyages vicariously through Toni Zimmerman [professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and academic dean for the Fall 2016 voyage], who has done four voyages with her family. We always wanted to go, but hadn’t found a way to make it work with family schedules, work, etc.

About two years ago, when Semester at Sea was looking for a new academic partner, my husband, Chris, the CSU registrar, became actively involved helping to ensure that all SAS coursework would meet CSU requirements and standards. He was invited to be a part of the administrative team on this voyage. I was hired to work as an instructional coordinator supporting the Global Studies course. Amazingly, each of our kids are at a point in life where they were able to apply and were accepted to sail as students on the voyage. Olivia is a freshman at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Jonah is a junior at CSU and Will graduated in May from Nebraska Wesleyan University (studying as a post-grad student).

Q. Can you tell us more about the Global Studies course and what the students are learning?

Global Studies is a course required of all students on the voyage, so we have 598 on our roster. Faculty, staff, lifelong learners and dependent children are also encouraged to attend, so it is a full classroom! In Global Studies students learn about the people, cultures, history and geography of the regions we are visiting. They also learn about and process the intercultural communication and interaction they have while in ports. There are five of us on the teaching team led by Tom Taylor and Eric Aoki [CSU Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication professor].

 Q. What is your favorite part of the voyage so far?

Stephanie and Chris Seng, First Officer Rado
Stephanie and Chris Seng with 1st Officer Rado during a bridge tour of the ship.

It would be impossible to identify one thing I like best about this experience. I was expecting it to be wonderful and it has exceeded those expectations in every way. Sailing with my husband and kids has enriched our family relationships and allowed us to create a shared story I will always cherish. I love being on the ship. With more than 800 students, faculty, staff and crew, it is a cultural experience in itself.

The ship is beautiful and we have comfortable quarters, but it is the people who make the ship a special experience. I can’t imagine a better administrative team. These people (including Academic Dean and CSU Professor Bob Kling; CSU Dean of Students and Dean of Student Life on the ship Jody Donovan; Dr. Jane Higgins from the CSU Health Network; my husband, Academic Advisor/Registrar Chris Seng; plus Dan Garvey, Sunny Lee, Debra Thomas and Terry Vecchio) are so in tune to creating an amazing student-centered voyage and are just great people in every way. The faculty and other staff are world-class with unbelievable experience and qualifications, so they are fascinating to work with. And, they are quality, kind, generous people with whom we’ve developed friendships that will last a lifetime. I’ve enjoyed meeting faculty from around the world, as well as from CSU, including Mary Littrell, professor and department head emerita of Design and Merchandising.

The officers and crew come from all over the globe and most have sailed with Semester at Sea for years. They all have interesting life stories and experiences to share and treat us so well. The students.come from over 30 different countries and include post-high school gap year students, traditional students, former military personnel, post-grad students and life-long learners.  It’s inspiring to be a part of their experiences as they learn about the world and themselves. In particular, I feel so fortunate to share this with my own kids as students.

Being in port has also been life changing. Each one has been special. Some of the time we have chosen to participate in SAS sponsored programs where Chris and I often serve as leaders for groups of 20 to 30 students. We have also been able to spend several days traveling on our own or with friends. The five of us made a decision before the voyage to spend about half our time off the ship traveling together as a family, and the other half traveling separately so Will, Jonah and Olivia can explore with SAS friends and have fun navigating the world independently.

 Q. What countries have you visited so far and what in-country experiences have resonated with you?

Stephanie Seng in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam
Stephanie Seng in a canoe on the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

We have been to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar and India so far. The experiences I have shared with Chris and the kids have by far been my favorite. In Hawaii we enjoyed Diamond Head and the beach. We rode the bullet train in Japan to ski at Hakuba Happo One, the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, visited the shrines in Kyoto, and connected with a Japanese friend from my childhood. In China we were able to see a number of well-known sites such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, but I most enjoyed a two-day, 15-mile hike atop the Great Wall.

In Vietnam, we participated in a homestay in the Mekong Delta. While there, we were able to visit farmers who have participated in the Heifer Project through Heifer International. It was inspirational to see firsthand the impact of such a useful program. In Myanmar, we rode in hot air balloons over ancient pagodas in Bagan and visited cottage industries in rural villages. In India we toured the majestic Taj Mahal and were moved by a visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home.

Regardless of the activities, we have been overwhelmed by the kindness we have been shown in every port. We have learned that there is far more to every culture that what we thought we knew or what we have heard in the news. We have felt safe and welcomed and are so grateful for the connections we have made.

You can read more about the Seng family adventure at Stephanie’s travel blog.

Learn more about upcoming voyages with Semester at Sea, as well as financial aid information, at www.semesteratsea.org. The CSU Education Abroad office is also an excellent resource for interested students and has information on Semester at Sea financial aid designated specifically for CSU students.

 The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.