How a university professor hones his craft by hitting the high seas
Throughout his summer and short breaks from being a professor at Hollins University, Edward Lynch hits the high seas as a visiting professor on board cruise ships, offering lessons to travelers on the history, geography, politics and culture of the cities they are visiting.
This summer Lynch traveled to the French Polynesia, Bermuda, Canada and New England, as well as northern European and Baltic regions. Lynch has been teaching classes on board cruise ships for about 16 years, on 24 separate cruises in total — doing what he calls “destination speaking,” where he takes advantage of the curiosity people have toward the place they are about to visit.
“The interest of guests tend to pique when we near a particular port, so that brings more guests into the lecture,” he said.
The lectures can reach attendance levels of 250 people or more on large cruises, and Lynch tends to perform about four or five lectures per cruise. At his other job in Hollins University, a private women’s college located in Roanoke, VA, with approximately 800 undergraduate and graduate enrolled students, Lynch is a professor of political science. There, he specializes in foreign affairs and international relations, having served under President Ronald Reagan in the White House.
Lynch says his cruise ship lecture travels have increased significantly since 2012 — noting the significant differences between his role as a lecturer on board a cruise ship and in the classroom.
“I can’t remember the last time I talked for 45 minutes in a class without interruptions from the class...and we live for those interruptions,” he said. “It’s a huge transition to go from here, where I’m used to speaking with 10 to 12 students, as opposed to speaking with as many as 200 people.”
Hollins says he tries to ensure large groups feel like they are receiving an individualized experience and has used his classroom experience to improve larger lectures. And often, he finds ways of reusing parts of his lectures on international matters by putting them to use at Hollins. For example, Lynch says he took a trip to East Africa last winter, and the first-hand experience helps him throughout his lectures on African politics.
“I head on shore and turn my antenna up to super sensitive with the amount of time I’ve got. I totally understand that spending one day in Tanzania by no means offers the ‘Tanzanian experience,’ but it's one day more than I had,” he said. “It allows me to make targeted research so I can know I wasn't making wrong impressions about something. There's nothing like being there.”
To Lynch, incorporating pictures and personal experiences into discussions about particular regions brightens the classroom jargon from being too academic or removed. He’s found instances where he starts “small,” by describing events, helps him to bridge towards larger topics of discussion.
“They’re not just places on a map or a globe. Real people live there, and these people are not so different from you,” he said, speaking about how he approaches instruction. “When I give my impression of a place, I caution students that my perspective is limited, but share what I saw and discovered. Very often, I can think of a specific place, a specific event, or a specific monument that I saw that I can use to bring a discussion that had seemed very detached, right down to earth.”
Lynch hopes his travels will soon take him to the Amazon and is looking forward to upcoming cruises that will stop in Tunisia and Algeria, two countries which factor into his ongoing research. He says the traveling enables him to make the onboard lectures feel all the more prescient for his audiences, which he enjoys as an educator.
“It’s tailored for their interest,” he said. “If we’re heading towards Stockholm, it’s a great thrill for me and the guest like it, too, when I say, ‘this happened near the Royal Palace, and you can see that tomorrow.’”