While most University of San Diego students in late August will be busy adjusting to the start of the fall 2011 semester on campus, it’s likely that James Wykowski won’t fret being a few thousand miles away. He’ll be too busy himself, taking classes aboard a cruise ship sailing to Casablanca, Morocco, the first of 12 countries he’ll visit on a 111-day trip to remember.
Wykowski, 62 other USD students and hundreds more college students from around the nation, will participate in this fall’s Semester at Sea (SAS) trip. Leaving from Montreal on Aug. 26, the junior double major in Theatre Arts and Theology and Religious Studies will earn college credit while visiting Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Cuba. The ship reaches its final stop Dec. 13 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Needless to say I’m pretty excited,” said Wykowski, a native of Portland, Ore.
Better yet, he’s going to experience everything with his semester tuition fully covered. Wykowski was chosen as one of nine national Presidential Scholars, a new scholarship offered through the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), which operates the SAS trips each fall, spring and summer.
According to its website, the Presidential Scholars program was developed “to identify and support extremely high-achieving students wishing to enhance their global perspective and better understand their vital role as a global citizen.”
The institute is essentially looking to Wykowski, who wrote two essays as part of the application process, and others as role models for the SAS program and to “further the mission” and core values of ISE.
Wykowski’s first two years at USD have showcased his potential. He is a cantor for Sunday masses at Founders Chapel, was an RA (resident assistant) in Maher Hall’s residence hall last year, and works in the Women’s Center and Student Affairs office. He has also appeared in three USD theatre productions.
Internationally he’s been on family trips to Europe and short trips to Canada, but at USD, his time has been spent in Tijuana, Mexico, including two trips with University Ministry’s powerful six-night, seven-day Tijuana Spring Breakthrough immersion and service trip.
“The level of immersion that occurred during my Tijuana experiences changed my perspective on everything,” said Wykowski, who was a student leader on this year’s trip and speaks Spanish fluently. “Working with Michael (Lovette-Colyer), Erin (Bishop) and Maria (Gaughan) in the Tijuana program made me more globally aware, more aware of myself and how I relate to other people, what my idea of service is and how to approach certain situations. They’ve pushed me to be a better traveler. Those experiences were a deciding factor for me to do Semester at Sea.”
Wykowski will get plenty of opportunities to build on what he’s learned. In addition to his coursework and any additional duties through ISE, he will be working on a research project tied to his Theology and Religious Studies major that could be showcased at USD’s 2012 Creative Collaborations.
“I want to look at the idea of Catholic Social Teaching and, specifically, solidarity, which is something I think we talk a lot about on campus,” he said. “I’m going to conduct interviews with people in the countries we’re visiting and speak with them to compare how that idea of solidarity affects their work in specific countries. I think it’s very important to do this outside of where we just talk about it from a place of privilege.”
Wykowski said he plans to focus the bulk of his research on conversations with people in India, South Africa and Vietnam. Nevertheless, the chance to absorb so much culture left him humbly acknowledging the enormity of the situation.
“I’m excited, but I also feel a great responsibility to bring back something from this trip. I’ve been given a full-ride scholarship and I’m so lucky to have this opportunity,” he said.
Wykowski isn’t the first USD student take advantage of the SAS excursion. According to Kira Espiritu, director of International Study Abroad, the university sends an average of 80 students per year. “USD is one of the largest-sending schools to SAS as we make up between eight and ten percent of the voyage,” she said.
It has also become routine for USD faculty members to teach on SAS trips, Espiritu said. For example, Michel Boudrias, PhD, Marine Science and Environmental Studies’ department chair and professor, will be teaching Marine Biology, Introduction to Oceanography, and Sustainability and Development in Coastal Zones on this fall’s voyage.
— Ryan T. Blystone