Sunday, November 29, 2009

Preparing for LIFE after SAS

For some students, being on the voyage of a lifetime sailing and learning around the world, it can be easy to forget about the responsibilities waiting for them when they get back home. For some of the older students, this may include making sure they’ve fulfilled all of the necessary graduation requirements and job hunting. For the younger students, it might be landing that first internship. Regardless, students are offered a plethora of resources on the ship to make sure none of those important things fall between the cracks.
This week there have been a series of career service events, which included everything from resume and cover letter workshops to help with applying for graduate school. Mario Rodriguez, the LLC in charge of career services, has been providing many of these events all throughout the voyage. He also meets with students one-on-one to revise their resumes, research and apply for jobs and internships, and provide practical advice on life after SAS.
The Fall 2009 voyage also provides a Mock Interview Program, which consists of a round of questions from a “potential employer.” This role is filled by a variety of willing faculty and staff members, so students will get used to different interviewing styles. After the interview, students receive an in-depth critique of their performance, and they can participate as many times as they like.
The newest addition to the SAS career services arsenal, however, is the C.S.I. (Career Services Initiative) Newsletter. This two-page, weekly newsletter contains information about all of the upcoming events students might be interested in, as well as articles with many helpful tips. The latest issue contained an article about the most common reasons recruiters toss resumes, and how to avoid them.
Top things to avoid include, being informal when sending a cover letter and resume through email, overusing keywords, including too much personal information and sending a resume with fancy extras.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Farewell Japan!

Below is a video from the night the MV  Explorer set sail for Hawaii from Kobe, Japan. In honor of Semester at Sea's departure, as well as the upcoming Christmas holidays, a band played a short concert of well-known Christmas carols from the dock. Students gathered on every deck waving at the people who came to see the ship off, and snapping pictures. Towards the end of the performance, and before the ship completely exited the port, it began snowing. It was an enchanting ending to an enchanting evening, particularly for some of our students from warmer climates. A few chatted excitedly about it being the first time they had ever seen snow. It was an endearing sight; one or two reached out just enough to catch a bit on the tip of their tongues.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tokyo Tour with YCU students

For some students, the morning of the second day in Yokohama brought along the exciting prospect-- touring Tokyo, the capital of Japan and one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world, with the most qualified group possible: Japanese students. Yokohama City University and Semester at Sea have developed a relationship in the hopes that students from both YCU and SAS will be able to learn from each other and foster friendships during a variety of activities. Since several of the YCU students were from Tokyo, the group was guaranteed to see some of the best sites the city had to offer.
Before even reaching Tokyo the group encountered its first new experience: using Japanese public transportation! Because Yokohama is only a 30-minute ride to Tokyo on the metro, students were treated to a crash course in navigating the Tokyo Metro system. Maria Rodriguez, who lives in New York City, exclaimed that, "[the Tokyo Metro] makes so much more sense than the subway," at the end of the day.
Once the group reached Tokyo, they had a traditional Japanese lunch, before heading to Shibuya, one of the major shopping districts in the city. The SAS students were amazed at size of the malls, and they were very enthusiastic about exploring the newest Tokyo fashions. They were also able to cross the biggest crosswalk in the world.
The YCU students next took the group to a Japanese arcade, where the group spent some time playing games and trying to win prizes. Then the entire group crowded into a large photo booth and took pictures to commemorate the day.
One of the other major highlights of the trip was the visit to the Meiji Shinto Shrine, which was dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Students followed the tradition of purifying themselves by washing their hands and mouths before entering the shrine. Once inside, the students could able to make a wish by tossing a coin into a hole separating the visitors from the center of the shrine. Before leaving, each student was able to pick out a fortune scroll, which contained short poems of wisdom written by Empress Shoken.
After visiting the shrine, all of the students spent some time in the park outside of the shrine watching a group of Japanese students preparing for a fashion show. Even though the tour was over, the YCU students escorted smaller groups of students to their next destinations, whether it was Akihabara, an area known for having the latest in anime and video games, or the Tokyo Tower, the largest self-supporting, steel tower in the world.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hangzhou Overnight Trip

After arriving in Shanghai, a small group left the ship by bus to Hangzhou, China. The city, which is the capital of Zhejiang province, is a two-hour drive from Shanghai, and is well known for its natural beauty and deep cultural roots. Along with being the cultural center of the province, it is also the economic and political center of the region, as a city that fuses the traditional and modern perfectly.
The group spent two days in Hangzhou, an important tourist destination for the country, exploring some of the city’s most popular sites. It was rainy, and a bit chilly throughout the group’s stay; fortunately, umbrellas and warm gloves helped to stave off the cold. Also, viewing each stop along the journey through the fine haze of rain cast the entire trip in a mystical and mysterious light.
Below is a slideshow from the trip. Pictures come from the West Lake, the Six Harmonies Pagoda, the Ling Yin Temple and the Dragon Well Tea Growing Farm. The students also visited a silk factory and shared several traditional meals with their hosts from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hong Kong City Orientation

The first day in Hong Kong, a large group of students took a tour of the city. The tour, which was partially conducted on buses, and then ended with a walking tour, lasted most of the day and included many of the most popular Hong Kong sites. The highlights of this city orientation included Cat Street, the Man Mo Temple, and Aberdeen.
Cat Street, which is also called Upper and Lower Lascar Row, used to be called Thieves' Market. The old name was used during a time when it was frequented by people selling stolen merchandise. Today, the street is lined with new buildings the market is probably the largest collection of Chinese antiques for sale anywhere outside of mainland China.
The Man Mo Temple is reputed as one of the oldest and most visited temples in Hong Kong. It is located on Hollywood Road, making it very close to the Cat Street Market. It was first built in 1848, shortly after the British took over Hong Kong. Several times since it was originally erected, it has been rebuilt.
The temple, whose name means “civil” and “military,” was dedicated to two gods, Man Cheong (the god of literature) and Kwan Yu (the god of war). When the students visited, the saw many fortune-teller booths near the temple. Instead of peering into a crystal ball, the fortune-tellers shake a bamboo tube. Inside the tube are fortune sticks that are marked with a number. The fortune is determined based on the stick that falls out first.
One of the last major stops in the orientation was the town of Aberdeen. Located on a southern tip of Hong Kong, Aberdeen is the largest satellite town in the area. With a population of roughly 60,000, the town morphed from a haven for pirates into a small fishing town. Recently, the town has become more modern, and has transformed yet again, this time into a waterfront resort frequented by people from metropolitan Hong Kong.

This is the view from Victoria's Peak (another stop on the city orientation) at night. From here, all of Hong Kong can be seen. The area is also known for it's attractions and restaurants, but it is the view that made it famous.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Great Divine Temple for Cao Dai in Vietnam

One of the Vietnam excursions that students are particularly fond of is the treck to the Cao Dai Great Divine Temple located near the Cambodian border. The religion was founded in 1926 in southern Vietnam. It has roughly six million follows many of whom worship in temples, which a spread along the Mekong Delta. Caodaism is a mixture of three other Eastern religions: Buddhism, Confucionism and Taoism. The Cao Dai banner pays homage to these three foundational religions. Concepts from each religion, such as vegetarianism, yin and yang and reincarcation, have been appropriated. The interior of the temple also shows some of these influences; for example, situated around the temple are 28 dragon-shaped columns, which represent the manifestations of the Buddha.
Services at the temple are held several times each day. Students attended the noon services, and observed from the balcony. A group of musicians and singers led the congregation in a 45-minute prayer session. The  music is Vietnamese, but hymns sound a bit like Christian spirituals rather than traditional Buddhist or Taoist chanting.
Below is a clip taken from the balcony of the temple during the beginning procession of the noon service. Women and lay people are dressed in white, while men of rank within the church hierarchy wear solid colored robes of red, blue or yellow.

Ho Chi Minh City: Cu Chi Tunnels

Approximately 70km outside of Ho Chi Minh City are the Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground web of tunnels utilized during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were a base for the region's military committee, and were used to house and transport soldiers. Several SAS trips toured the Ben Duoc Tunnel Complex, a 200km stretch of tunnels that survived American bombing and was nationally recognized as a historic relic December 15, 2004.

This is one of many entrances to the tunnels. The openings were kept covered and hidden, and small groups were assign to each one. The soldiers only knew where their entrance was, so if captured they were not very useful to the Americans. This one has been slightly enlarged. One of the guides demonstrated how to get in and out of the hole.

A couple of students also tried getting down the entrance. Because Vietnamese people are generally much smaller than Americans, it was near impossible for American soldiers to follow down a hole, even if they located one.

Many traps like this one were set up around the area. Originally dug out to trap tigers, spikes were added during the conflict. Between 10-15 percent of American casualties were attributed to traps like this one.

The groups were also shown a reconstruction of a weapons workshop. The Vietnamese people would take old weapons and shells, and create land mines and grenades to use during fighting.

The American base in the area was set up a mere 5km from the tunnels. For two years after it was built, the Air Force was unable to bomb the area because they would bomb the base in the process. After many failed attempts to conquer the tunnel dwellers, orders to abandon the base and bomb the tunnels were issued. This crater was formed by one of the bombs, which caused the collapse of many tunnels.

This entrance has been enlarged enough for tourists to enter. Following a guide, the students crawled 300 feet through the tunnels. This area was enlarged by 40 percent, but the students still had no space to turn around and had to crawl the whole way. They found it hard to believe that people traversed this way for years in tunnels that were much smaller, but had fun scurrying through the short passageway.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

For Parents!!!

The Fall 2009 Voyage has passed its midpoint, and many parents are already making arrangements to get to San Diego to welcome their sons and daughters home. You can find all of the helpful information you need concerning travel arrangements, arrival time, disembarkment schedule and welcome reception here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cultural Preport: Vietnam

Yesterday evening the entire shipboard community gathered together in the Union for cultural preport. Preport meetings are a vital part of preparing everyone before we enter a new country. For most of the students, Vietnam is a country they have never visited before. The cultural preport gives everybody vital information that is designed to help ease their transition into a new culture. Aside from basic country information, these meetings discuss differences in culture that students may not be aware of, but are an important part of ensuring acceptance by the native people they encounter in each country. The other half of the preparation takes place the following day in logistical preport, and focuses on providing information that will help students stay safe and make the most out of their stay in a country. Information covered will include everything from where the closest post office is located to how to get in touch with the Dean on duty in case of an emergency.
The July 2009 estimate of Vietnam's population was 86,967,524. Unlike many of the other ports on this trip, there is no core religion that ties the country together. In fact, in the last census, over 80 percent of Vietnam's citizens responded that they did not have a religion. There are, however, significant cultural influences that govern the way people behave, and how they interact with one another. For example, the family is extremely important in Vietnamese culture. As a result, it is quite typical for people to live with their parents even after they marry. There is also a very strong sense of respect for elders, and students were advised how to greet older people and even how to give them money when shopping (with both hands cupped) to avoid unintentional signs of disrespect.
One of the other important issues that was discussed was the government. Vietnam is a communist country, whose constitution was enacted April 15, 1992. Although it may be difficult to see the differences in a country caused by government type during a stay as short as ours, the students were encouraged nevertheless to be observant while in port.
The students favorite part of every cultural preport is when they start talking about food. In Vietnam, some of the specialties include Com (rice), Gio Lua (lean pork pie), Cha Ca (grilled minced fish), and Banh Tom (crispy shrimp pastry). They were even given recommendations of places with the tastiest food! To keep everyone safe and healthy, they are advised to only eat cooked food.