It’s not a traditional classroom, but for Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor of English Timothy Hibsman, it was smooth sailing, combining his love of teaching with first-hand opportunities to explore nautical history and literature.

Tim Hibsman on the dock with the World Odyssey moored behind him in Naples, Italy.

Day 1: The academic adventure begins with Tim Hibsman boarding the World Odyssey with over 400 students and 30 faculty in Naples, Italy.

Hibsman, who has been a member of the IUP faculty for the last 10 years, was a member of the faculty for a spring 2022 Semester at Sea voyage on the World Odyssey. The ship, a “floating campus traveling around the world,” is part of the Institute for Shipboard Education program. Each voyage’s cohort of faculty members includes experts in their respective fields, representing more than 20 United States and international institutions. Classes are offered for credit through Colorado State University, and about 400 students are on the 100-plus day voyage, which travels to more than 10 destinations over 20,000 nautical miles.

Hibsman has an interest in nautical film and literature and teaches English 281, Nautical Film and Literature, at IUP in addition to courses in technical writing. His background includes 15 years in aerospace before beginning a teaching career in southern California.

Poseidon's Temple in Greece with sunset over the sea in the background

Poseidon’s Temple in Greece was one of the many experiences where Hibsman led a group of students to learn about the importance of the sea and maritime commerce in ancient Greece.

On the ship, he taught Business Communications and Creative Nonfiction Writing. In addition to his teaching duties, he served as a writing center director, on the leadership committee, on the COVID-19 medical team, as a field program team leader, and was a member of the Cross Currents Lecture Series presentation group. His lectures offered through the Series included “Survival at Sea, Keeping Your Head Above Water” and “Female Pirates, Badass Women of the Sea.” 

While on board the World Odyssey, the ship visited multiple ports of call: Naples, Italy; Piraeus, Greece; Limassol, Cyprus; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Valletta, Malta; Barcelona, Spain; Gibraltar, United Kingdom; Lisbon, Portugal; Brest, France; Greenock, United Kingdom; Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; and Bremerhaven, Germany.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that took the education process to an entirely new level,” said Hibsman. “Every day your classroom was in a new location. With students from around the world, we had incredible adventures in each port with the culture, diversity, language, and customs. These learning experiences turned into valuable skills for the students, as well as new perspectives for the faculty to use in the future.”

Tim Hibsman on a bridge over a canal in Copenhagen, Denmark

Hibsman exploring the canals and ships in Copenhagen, Denmark, with students from the Creative Nonfiction course.

Each class required a field study program to maximize the international learning environment. Hibsman’s Business Communications students visited the Vassallo Group in Malta where they discussed business communications, ethics, safety, customer service, public relations, marketing strategies, and other related topics with company CEO Charlo Bonnici. The Vassallo Group is one of the largest companies on the island and is responsible for constructing the US Embassy.

In addition to the shipboard duties, in many of the ports he had to opportunity to research and discuss maritime topics with museum curators, guides, and professors. Research locations included Vasa Museum (Swedish National Maritime and Transport Museum), Maritime Museum of Barcelona, Poseidon’s Temple (Greece), Maritime Museum and the Frigate D. Fernando II e Gloria (Portugal), Nautical History Museum (Croatia), Brest Maritime Museum (France), and World War II nautical history is Malta and Gibraltar.

Hibsman also used this opportunity to focus on expanding his international teaching experience and acquire more research materials for his upcoming book, The Anchored Life with Ambassador Press, planned for publication in November.

“I had students from the Ukraine, Russia, Denmark, Korea, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States. This diversity and cultural background made experiencing 12 countries (and apply course concepts) an incredible education exploit you can’t get in a regular classroom,” he said. “Without a doubt, there were many challenges, such as a pitching and rolling classroom, language issues, seasickness, sleep deprivation, getting lost in a foreign country, etc. but all of these just added to the rewarding teaching experience I can bring back to IUP.”