When the GW Alumni Association offered journalism professor Janet Steele the opportunity to forgo D.C.’s frigid February weather to accompany a group of GW alumni on a seven-day cruise through Southeast Asia, it didn’t take long for her to say yes.
The excursion was one of several short-term travel programs that the Alumni Association offers throughout the year as a part of their effort to be a resource for “lifelong learning” to all GW alumni, said Julia Coplan, alumni benefits coordinator.
“The addition of GW faculty enables us to offer an experience that is uniquely GW,” Coplan said.
Steele’s wealth of experience teaching and researching in Southeast Asia made her an ideal lecturer for the most recent travel program, Coastal Life in Thailand and the Malay Peninsula.
Steele received a Fulbright Scholarship to Indonesia in 1997 where she developed an interest in journalism in Southeast Asia and has since continued her research on the region.
The group consisted of instructors and alumni from 20 universities throughout the country, including six people affiliated with GW. The four professors on the trip lectured on topics relevant to the Thai and Malay region, ranging from ecology to literature to sustainable tourism. Steele’s lectures focused on the interplay of politics and media in Malaysia, her area of expertise.
Over the course of the trip the group boarded the Star Clipper, one of the largest sailboats in the world. The vessel sailed from the city of Phuket, Thailand, to Singapore, making daily stops along the coast of Malaysia.
“Our alumni are very smart and very interested in things, and they were just an ideal audience,” Steele said. “It was like having a very smart group of students who were just interested in everything.”
Irving Blickstein, a GW alumnus who graduated from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 1975, attended the program with his wife. He said he felt the lectures greatly enhanced the experience.
“It really gives an entirely different perspective of the trip because it’s not just sitting around and going from place to place,” Blickstein said. “You actually have people who talk about the culture of the area . so it makes it much richer.”
A frequent traveler, Steele said the experience only further emphasized her belief that going abroad at any age provides an opportunity for personal growth.
“It’s good for all of us to get out our own culture,” she said. “I think you understand yourself better when you are in a different place.”