Miriam Bowman of Meadville looks through a world atlas prior to her 'Semester at Sea' with more than 600 college students. While at sea, students take a variety of courses to earn college credits as they travel around the world.

Nothing can stop Miriam Bowman. At age 79, the Meadville resident still sets her sights high, and this weekend she is embarking on a three-month voyage around the world. The only thing left to do is to finish packing.

Along the way, Bowman will be studying some college courses, and she might even get to spend some time with renowned Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is also circling the globe on this Semester at Sea voyage.

Their ship, MV Explorer, is no ordinary craft. Built in 2002, it’s a 24,000-ton passenger ship equipped as a floating university. It includes classrooms, study areas, a library, two dining rooms, a student union, a health clinic and various fitness facilities.

Bowman will join two Allegheny College students, two Allegheny professors and one retired AC professor for the trip. More than 600 students from various other colleges will also be on board.

The journey will start at Nassau in the Bahamas and will continue to Brazil, South Africa, India, Malaysia, China and several other countries.

As a 1949 Allegheny graduate, Bowman said the experience will give her an opportunity to do something she didn’t have time for while in school.

“I’ve always been intrigued by it (Semester at Sea),” she said. “Mike (Maniates), who is an Allegheny professor of political and environment science, said he was going to be the academic dean of this program, so I thought, ‘Why not get involved?’ ”

However, Bowman still had concerns after making her final decision to attend Semester at Sea. “I’m overwhelmed by the whole trip,” she said. “I had to make up my mind quick. I had a month to get it together and say, ‘Yep, I’m going to do it.’ I went online and kept asking, ‘Are you sure you have a room for me?’ I figured, I’m healthy now, so I should go.”

Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, will join Maniates for the entire journey. Tutu will serve as distinguished lecturer-in-residence in courses including anthropology, history, religion and political science. He will also present a series of lectures between Brazil and South Africa while onboard.

While Semester at Sea is not an approved program at Allegheny College, students will still receive college credits through a variety of courses. Bowman is quick to point out that she is not taking courses for college credit but for the experience itself. “I’m taking the courses for expansion,” she said. “I’m beyond a degree at this point. I look forward to the opportunity to experience different cultures.”

A perspectives of peace course offered on the ship particularly intrigues Bowman, since she is a member of Women in Black, an international peace network formed in 1988 that uses silent vigils to protest war, injustice, militarism and other forms of violence. Locally, that group meets at Diamond Park each Saturday.

But her educational goals go well beyond that. “This trip gives you the opportunity to absorb other cultures,” she said. “I want to keep my eyes and mind open to everything.”

Bowman is no stranger when it comes to expanding her horizons. She once participated in a month-long International Peace Organization walk in Ukraine from Odessa on the Black Sea to Kiev with a peace group of 250 Americans and 250 Soviets to share world concerns. For Semester at Sea, she individually planned side trips for a three-day safari in Africa and a visit to the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia.

A retired stay-at-home mother, Bowman has enjoyed volunteering for Meadville Council on the Arts and serving as a board member for a music symphony in Erie. She is also involved in church activities and peace organizations.

“I have four grown children and seven grandchildren, and they’re used to me being interested in new things,” she said. “This is a chance to say ‘guess what I’m doing?’

“If you never go beyond your particular block or village, you don’t experience everything,” she said. “You learn that nothing is foreign. To say that we’re (the United States is) all there is, it’s keeping your eyes and ears closed. If we’re aimed to be a great nation, we have to understand and have empathy for other people. Actually experiencing it is way beyond just reading book.”

Semester at Sea is a shipboard program that enriches the lives of thousands of young people by providing a globe-circling adventure in international education. The program began in 1963 and was first known as the University of the Seven Seas and World Campus Afloat before becoming known as Semester at Sea in 1977.

The University of Pittsburgh recently ended a 24-year sponsorship of Semester at Sea after concerns of safety and ship operations. In the summer 2005 voyage, a 50-foot wave hit the ship while it was carrying hundreds of college students across the Pacific. A window was broken, causing damage and leaving the ship to run on only one engine. Three crew members were injured when the wave broke through the windows.

Beginning with the summer 2006 session, the University of Virginia serves as the academic sponsor of the program.

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