As a Wheeling Country Day School student in the late '90s, Jonathan Squibb participated in several International Culture Days, which sparked his interest in life outside the United States. Family friend Justin Seibert of Wheeling fanned the flame when he advised Squibb that if he were interested in studying abroad, he should choose a country he'd likely never have the chance to visit otherwise.
So when a Furman University classmate told him he was applying to the Semester at Sea program, Squibb was stoked. He applied and was accepted to the shipboard college program that offers the world as its laboratory.
The junior economics major from Wheeling embarked from Nassau, the Bahamas Wednesday on a voyage that will take him to 10 countries on four continents.
"Vietnam is probably the port I'm looking forward to the most, since it's one of those places I never thought I would go," Squibb said during a visit to Wheeling Country Day School students one week ago. Squibb was visiting the school to prime the students on his trip. He has opted to participate in Semester at Sea's "Vicarious Voyage" program, through which he will post regularly to a blog to keep WCDS students updated on his experiences. He also will be able to mail them food and souvenirs from his ports of call. Last Friday, he met with students in several grades to tell them about his upcoming trip and allow them to ask him questions.
The third-graders wanted to know if he thought he would get seasick (he hopes not), if he feels lucky to be traveling the world (extremely) and how long he'd be in each port (four to five days).
When Squibb asked them what they'd like him to send back, the predominant answers were food and candy. Sand, a turtle, a robot and chopsticks also were mentioned. The students, having had instruction in Japanese culture and language up until this year, were most excited about Squibb's trip to Japan. One boy requested he bring back an autograph from the Japanese creator of Mario Brothers; another asked him to mail him some sushi.
When Squibb said he doesn't know the languages in the countries he will be visiting, one student remarked: "You could bring us, because we speak a little bit of Japanese." A girl piped up: "Please take me in your suitcase!"
Squibb said he has to pack lightly - he'll take only a duffel bag and a backpack. He had to get six vaccinations and obtain visas for four countries before leaving the United States.
Country Day Spanish teacher Renee McFadden will lead the discussions on Squibb's trip, periodically reviewing his posts and pictures, googling the country he's in and following his route on a classroom map.
"I'm excited about it, too," she said.
Squibb said he is looking forward to giving the students "a taste of some different world cultures" and introducing them to the way children in these countries live. "I know I would have really enjoyed it when I was a student here," he said.
Semester at Sea is operated by the nonprofit Institute for Shipboard Education. Its "worldwide itineraries offer rigorous coursework coupled with field assignments, service learning in eight to 12 international destinations, and the skills necessary to compete in today's rapidly globalizing world," according to the website, www.semesteratsea.org. The University of Virginia provides the fully transferable credits.
Students can take a variety of courses. Squibb said his will include global economics, journalism with a global focus, and world religions. Classes will take place while at sea. While at port, students will meet with local diplomats, learn about the geography and culture through field experiences such as hiking, attending musical performances, touring museums, and visiting local schools and orphanages, among a myriad other opportunities.
The itinerary includes Dominica, Brazil (with an Amazon voyage), Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Japan and Hawaii. They return to America via San Diego on April 24.
Jonathan is the son of Jim and Julie Squibb of Wheeling and is a 2008 graduate of The Linsly School. Readers may follow his progress at jsquibbaroundtheworld.wordpress.com.