My Year Away. And Back.

The Joys of Getting Back into Academic Life after a Year-Long Sabbatical.


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Here’s What I Learned During My Second Sabbatical Cruise.

I agree that two cruises within four months is kind of extravagant—and not the typical sabbatical outing. But this trip to the Panama Canal was altogether different—and beneficial in a completely different way to my sabbatical than my first cruise for two reasons:

  1. I went with my sister. While this might not seem like a big deal, for me, it was. I haven’t spent any significant time with my sister since we were both in high school. Let’s just say that that was a long, long time ago.   Thanks to my dad who helped finance this trip, we spent 12 days together—and we even got along the whole time.

    My sister and me when we were little.

    My sister and me when we were little.

  2. I have wanted to see the Panama Canal for about forever and, really, the only way to do that, is by boat.

So how was it? In a word, epic.

We travelled on Holland America’s Zuiderdam, either a “good old boat,” or a “needs to be in dry-dock boat,” depending on your perspective. I found I kind of liked her creaks and moans. I could relate!

To the first point: my sister.

Those who know me well know that I am actually a bit of an introvert—or as I like to remind people, I’m an introvert stuck in an extrovert’s body. My sister is both a chaplain’s wife and a social worker. She helps people. So, of course, she talks to them. I, however, am a professor. On sabbatical, no less. So I’m alone a good bit.   Give me a comfy chair and a book and I’m good to go.   On this cruise, however, I decided that it was time to strike out and play the extrovert. I’m glad I did because in the process, my sister and I had dinner with at least 50 different—and mostly interesting—people. Our dinners typically lasted two hours in which we would savor our lovely four-course meals.

Time for the first course.

Time for the first course.

My sister and I were quite adept at bringing people out of their shells. Between her social work skills and my curiosity, we were both able to work the crowd fairly well. Most of the people we met were retired—and thrilled to have more free time, even though they all seemed to have enjoyed their careers. Most were eager to chat. We met a former editor of the Boston Globe; a retired soprano with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus; a doctor who had climbed Kilimanjaro; another doctor who weekly travelled up to North Dakota from Minnesota to practice medicine in an area that desperately needed doctors.   We met couples who had been married over 50 years. We met people who were traveling alone. We even met another set of sisters. In the process, my sister and I also learned quite a bit about each other.

Now to the second point: The Panama Canal.

To get to the canal, you have to travel a long, long way. Lots of days at sea. And the seas were something during this trip. We had near gale force winds more than one day hitting F7 on the Beaufort scale. (Even if you don’t know what that is, it sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?)

It was a lot of rocking and rolling on our ship.

It was a lot of rocking and rolling on our ship.

One morning during our daily 7a.m. “stretch and exercise” class, we had to do all the moves sitting down because it was too difficult with the movement of the ship. So it felt like I was on a voyage, which, somehow seemed appropriate for my sabbatical.

Once we got to the canal, we entered the first set of locks (Gatun Locks) early in the morning. Each section is about 1,000 feet long. Interesting because it is also the length of the ship. It was a tight fit and quite exciting to go up 87 feet (over the three locks that make up Gatun Locks). Once we got into Gatun Lake, the real fun began. Here’s what I did: got into a lifeboat (really!), and traversed the high winds to the shore; got into a not-great bus for a 90-minute trip across not-great roads listening to a not-great guide spew political opinions (of which I disagreed) about the canal. I can sum up his viewpoint by saying he was not a fan of Jimmy Carter. Then I got into a not-great ferry boat for a very hot ride through the rest of the canal, including the San Pedro and Mira Flores locks. Then another 90-minute ride back with the same (but even more annoying by this time) guide. I was glad to get back on the big ship and was sound asleep by 8.

But the point is this. I saw the Panama Canal. Just about every inch of it. It wasn’t necessarily the most fun way to spend the day, but it was one of the most interesting days I’ve had in a long, long time.

On the canal heading toward the Bridge of the Americas.

On the canal heading toward the Bridge of the Americas.

The next morning after the ship docked in Limon, Costa Rica, I was refreshed enough to head out with my sister to the rain forest to zip line. Did I ever think I would zip line anywhere (let alone the rain forest of Costa Rica and let alone with my sister???)? Uh. No. No. No. No.

I had hoped that my sabbatical would provide a combination recovery period from a decade of administrative work and a platform for (re)launching my scholarly life. It has done that. And more. I’m looking forward to returning to campus. But, not quite yet. I still have a lot of rest, recovery and research to do!