Semester at Sea Forbidden Zones

Do Not Enter

This blog is about how a passenger ship—like the world—is compartmentalized.


Many area of the ship are   restricted.

Many area of the ship are restricted.


Compartmentalization has benefits and costs.

It’s amazing how attached one gets to a ship in the middle of the ocean. The M/V Explorer is carrying the 800 or so souls who make up the Semester at Sea learning community across the Pacific Ocean.

It is literally a world unto itself and our very lives depend upon its integrity.

The ship is a microcosm of the world. That world, also, requires integrity if it is to support us over the long term.

Afloat and Safe

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On the ship, compartmentalization keeps the ship afloat and safe.  If one or two sections of the ship fill with water, compartmentalization keeps the ship afloat. That’s a huge benefit.

But that same compartmentalization also imposes costs.

It means that much of the ship and its operations are hidden from the students, staff, and faculty.

This compartmentalization of the ship into “passenger” areas and “crew” areas renders invisible some of the most important attributes of the ship.

Run of the Ship

Oh, it appears that the students faculty and staff have the run of the ship. We have our cabins, two dining areas, a piano bar, a large recreation area, nine classrooms, a fitness area, and access to various outdoor decks.  It appears to be enough.  Once in a while, they even allow tours of the bridge.

restricted entry

But you can’t walk many yards in any direction before encountering restricted areas, chains, locked doors with fierce red warnings, and other evidence that large parts of the ship are off-limits to civilians.

There are many good reasons for these restrictions.

There are reasonable security, liability, and health reasons at work.  The crew deserves privacy after the work shifts are over.

The Costs

What are some of the costs of compartmentalizing the ship so thoroughly?

For one thing, it encourages us—the consumers—to be ignorant consumers.

Where do the meals that are served to us three times a day come from? We never see the kitchens or the cooks.

Where are the beds of the most Filipino housekeepers who make our beds every day? We never see their quarters.

What happens when we flush our toilets?  Someone has to deal with the human waste that’s accumulated.

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Where does the clean water we drink and the hot water we use for our showers come from?

How is the ship powered?  Who are the engineers who maintain the engines?

What fuel does the ship use?  Where is it kept and how much of it do we use?

Exposing the passengers to the often harsh realities behind the luxury may detract from our comfort.

But until we get a good reckoning of all the costs as well as the benefits, it’s hard to have meaningful conversations about the tradeoffs.

Privilege is a big item of conversation on the M/V Explorer.

One piece of privilege is that we get to go around the world with the answers to the questions about tradeoffs locked behind closed doors and chains.

For another take on Semester at Sea, see Anna Beth Payne’s blog

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