Sunday, August 10, 2008

Player Blog: Alex Tkachuk's Semester at Sea

Linfield Head Coach Joe Smith will tell our players that one of the best classrooms at the college is the practice field because that's where you can develop a work ethic and life skills that will last a lifetime. As someone that is 10 years removed from those practice fields I agree 100% with that statement but there are many great education experiences that Linfield offers to all their students.

Linfield starting middle linebacker Alex Tkachuk took ad
vantage of one of those education opportunities and spend this past spring traveling around the globe in a dynamic study abroad program. I asked Alex to share in his experience and his blog entry is an awesome story of how these types of programs can shape a young person's life and world view. Thank you "T-Chuck"
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This last spring term, I participated in a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. As an International Business major, my curriculum requires that I study outside the U.S. at some point before I graduate. When I came in as a freshman in 2006, Catdome alumnus Drew Ragan had returned from the same program, so I was able to hear some incredible stories about his time abroad. I looked into Semester at Sea, decided that it would be a great fit for me, and applied. After getting the mountain of paperwork and visa applications taken care of during the fall, I was ready to go on January 23rd. Linfield’s International Programs office made the process very easy, and the coaching staff was supportive of me even though I would miss spring ball and weights. I have come to be so grateful I wound up a student-athlete at Linfield. It is not about churning out All-Americans (though we have many), but high quality men. The coaches knew that in the long-term, this experience would be more rewarding for me as a person than a spring in McMinnville.

Semester at Sea works something like this: A former cruise liner was converted into a “floating campus” with classrooms instead of casinos and a Student Union rather than an entertainment venue. Students take between 12 and 18 credits on the ship, which has a faculty as diverse as the students. Classes meet while the ship is sailing between ports, and my credits will be issued by the University of Virginia. When the ship docks in the next port of call, classes are put on pause, and you are more or less free to go and explore the country for a few days, until the ship sails on to the next port. So it goes a few days of classes, a few days of traveling, classes, traveling. Basically, it is a cruise around the world with classes. They hailed the program as a “voyage of discovery”, and that is what it was in every sense of the word—discovery.

The ship was docked in Nassau, so I flew to the Bahamas packed lightly, ready to see the world. There were 5 other students from Linfield, 2 of them close friends that I went through the application process with, so I did not feel any sense of isolation from home. I remember sailing out of Nassau, thinking about how many crazy/shocking/wonderful/new experiences were out there waiting, also thinking about how I would not be back to North America until May. It was a strange feeling of anticipation and excitement, kind of like those first few days of college.

I got an inside cabin that I shared with a roommate, which included a small bathroom, small closet, small TV, and small refrigerator. It was small, but you can’t ask for much more than that when you get to be on a cruise ship for 100 days. No windows, but a giant mirror instead. I put a map up on the wall so I could chart our progress each day, as our momentary coordinates and speed were on the TV at all times. The food was great. The crew made local dishes from our ports, as well as classics like meatloaf. All in all, it was a pretty easy life.

I loved the classes I had. Global Studies was a mandatory class that everyone took together in the Union every day. Different professors would present a lecture about the next country on the itinerary, usually having something to do with its history, economics, or environmental and social issues. For example, I had a World’s Biomes class, kind of boring, but it satisfies a science requirement, and a 20th Century World History class. We were assigned 10 memoirs to read, to learn about growing up in the countries we would visit. The class that I enjoyed the most was Traditional Chinese Medicine. I had seen an acupuncturist a few times for sports injuries, and had great results, so I wanted to know more about it and see why it worked for me, even though I was a little skeptical. The professor was a licensed acupuncturist from Utah who studied at Oregon College of Chinese Medicine. The class covered TCM’s roots in Taoism, elemental philosophy like yin-yang, acupuncture, herbs, and balanced diet. This class was great because it exposed me to so many new lines of thinking as it comes to health, which inspired me to explore other ideas that I formerly thought were “untrue.”. It also introduced me to some awesome movement exercises. We did Tai Chi once, and I caught myself thinking that I wanted Coach Fendall to add it to his training regimen. It was great for balance, energy, and calming the mind.

I also looked into Yoga. I had some hamstring injuries this last season, and wanted to improve my flexibility, so I brought a yoga mat with me so I could stretch somewhere on the ship. It turned out to be one of the best things I brought, and it certainly got used quite a bit. A student from Colorado was teaching a yoga/core strength class on the back deck every day, so I went, got one of the best ab workouts of my life, and came back every day after that. I went from being so stiff I could not touch my toes, to being in the best flexibility and shape of my life.

Here is the itinerary in order, and lengths of stay:

Nassau, Bahamas: Embarkation

San Juan, Puerto Rico: 3 days

Salvador, Brazil: 5 days

Cape Town, South Africa: 6 days

Port Louis, Mauritius: 4 days

Chennai India: 5 days

Penang, Malaysia: 5 days

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam: 5 days

Honk Kong: 2 days

Shanghai, China: 2 days

Kobe, Japan: 4 days

Honolulu, USA: 1 day

Puntarenas, Costa Rica: 2 days

Panama Canal

Miami, USA: Disembarkation

When we came to a port, I was more or less free to see the country the way I wanted to, as long as I was back before the ship sailed. Generally, I chose to pack light and head to the nearest bus or train station with some travel companions, and come up with a good place to go see that probably was not on the tourist pamphlet. I did not go to the Taj Mahal in India, Great Wall of China, or go on safari in South Africa. I came to find that the simple things were often the most rewarding, and least expensive. I enjoyed nothing more than sitting around a cafĂ©, pub, or hostel in a smaller, more remote town, and talking with the people who knew these places first hand and learning about their lives. It’s incredible how much English is known around the world, and after getting to know them, how similar we all are. I had a healthy balance of seeing cultural and religious sites, a fair bit of hiking, wandering around the world’s biggest cities with a backpack, outdoor recreation, riding trains and buses, knocking feats off my bucket list, and finding a good beach with a sunset and friends.

Last spring was definitely the most carefree time of my life. It gave me a chance to take a step back and analyze what I find important, and what kind of meaning I want my life to have. I also was able to see the world and the places I only knew from books and photos firsthand, just getting to go explore places and find some adventure while I am still young. The world is definitely a smaller place now.

Let me finish by noting how very fortunate I am to have had this experience, studying abroad under the guise of a world cruise, and I am grateful to everyone at Linfield that helped make it possible. The coaching staff gave me their blessings to go and do this. 3 players from Linfield have done this program so far; I doubt that many other programs in the country would let that happen. I am looking forward to this coming season, camp is almost here, and I am confident that this year’s team is really going to surprise the whole country. In the spirit of the blog, let me rephrase that: this year’s team is going to surprise the world. Catdome!

1 comment:

Laura said...

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