The Adventurer

James Wykowski


An unsettling 12-hour bus ride between the Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Zagora was a definite learning experience for James Wykowski. “Our first trek into the desert was supposed to take place at sunset, but as the sun continued to go down, we began wondering what the camels’ night vision was going to be like,” he recalls about that journey, which was meant to culminate with a stay in a desert camp.

Fear and doubt consumed many of his fellow students — along with motion sickness brought on by the bus weaving up and down hair-raising twists through the mountains. “As the sun went down, concerns began to rise. Pretty soon talk of never getting off, getting scammed — or worse — began to sprout up.”

But the bus did reach its promised destination at last, and Wykowski’s worries disappeared, replaced by relief and calm.“We trekked through the desert at night on the camels. Our way was lit entirely by the moon,” he wrote on his blog. “The sky was bursting with stars and I had this incredible feeling of being so far away from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, but still totally at peace with the world.”

Consider it a lesson learned, one of several memorable adventures from the USD junior’s Semester at Sea (SAS) fall excursion, which spanned 111 days, 12 countries and five college classes aboard the passenger ship MV Explorer.

It’s the sort of journey that a person can’t fully prepare for, says Wykowski, a theatre arts and theology and religious studies double major. “Visiting so many countries in such a short amount of time is an amazing and overwhelming experience.”

The voyage began in Montreal, moved on to Casablanca and then to Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Cuba, before finally docking in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Wykowski was one of 63 USD students aboard the ship, alongside hundreds of college students from all over the nation. The nonprofit Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), runs student education trips year-round.

Of course, it’s not all about clocking travel miles and hopping from one international adventure to the next. There is actually studying involved. Wykowski took five courses: Global Studies, World Literature, Conversational Spanish, World Theatre and Performance and History of Musical Theatre.

Kira Espiritu, director of International Study Abroad programs, says USD sends more students on SAS than any other school in the country.

Wykowski is the first USD student to be an ISE Presidential Scholar, an honor which, among other benefits, covered the cost of his semester’s tuition. His selection brought with it a responsibility to adhere to the SAS’ mission “to educate individuals with the global understanding necessary to address the challenges of our interdependent world.”

To answer that challenge, he embarked on a research project delving into the Catholic Social Thought principle of solidarity.

He credits his two-year participation in USD’s University Ministry’s Tijuana Spring Breakthrough immersion as the main impetus for his decision to apply for SAS. “My Tijuana experience changed my perspective on everything,” he says, “It made me more globally aware, more aware of myself, how I relate to others and what my idea of service is.” — Ryan T. Blystone

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