An ocean of possibilities with a Semester at Sea
July 8, 2006
Having the world for a classroom means business, at least to Parkite Michael Kaplan it does.
The former owner of Mother Urban’s Ratskeller, a nightclub on Main Street, was invited to be a business professor for the Semester at Sea Program during fall 2006. As students sail to 14 different ports around the world, Kaplan will teach courses in international marketing, international management and global business.
He has previously taught at Gotlands University in Visby, Sweden and at Vrije University in Amsterdam. Kaplan has a master of liberal arts degree in government from Harvard University and a master of international management degree from Thunderbird the Garvin School of Business.
Much of what is on the Semester at Sea’s itinerary, including Japan, India and Spain are familiar territory to Kaplan who has lived in 89 countries and visited 118.
"I just think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity. I can combine at least two of my loves, teaching and travel," Kaplan said.
Before students board the ship in Mexico, Kaplan will meet the rest of the faculty in San Diego and participate in a 5-day orientation as they travel to Ensenada where the semester will begin.
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As a teacher, Kaplan said he incorporates his own life experience into the classroom.
"I will try to introduce real-world concepts, because a lot of professors know the academic theories but not the real world-applications," Kaplan said.
In class he likes to share stories about his adventures as an entrepreneur and world traveler.
For example, when he first moved to Park City Kaplan was having trouble getting a business license, his loan was refused and he was spending nights in his car. When his father expressed doubt in his ability to succeed in the area it only motivated him to try harder and he was eventually able to open the popular night club Mother Urban’s.
Kaplan has climbed the Matterhorn, biked in Europe, visited the Himalayas, has worked on oil tankers and fishing boats. He brings all of this into the classroom and encourages students to do the same with their life experiences.
"I always get really good teacher evaluations," Kaplan said, adding that recently students gave him a round of applause at the conclusion of class.
He added that he enjoys helping students who are lost find direction and also strives to give them a better understanding of other cultures.
"Americans hate dead silence and when I say that, I shut up for about 20 seconds," Kaplan said.
He called it the talk show syndrome, explaining that during conversations American’s hate dead air, but this can be costly in the business world.
Kaplan said he illustrates this in his classes by giving the example of an American who is conducting business negotiations with a Finnish man who gets very quiet after the American presents proposal. Because the Finn is silent, the American became uncomfortable and continued to make concessions without knowing it was traditional for Finnish businessmen to take a few moments to consider what was being offered before responding.
Kaplan also challenges students by giving them the task of thinking like an entrepreneur in a difficult situation. For example he will ask them to find a market niche for a product like Hawaiian Tropic in cold climates or Chef Boyardee in Italy.
Unlike most of his other classes though, he will be teaching the challenges of business on a floating classroom where students will wake up amidst the cultures they have been learning about.
He is excited for the opportunity, but believes this like most of his successes is a result of his love for what he does.
"If you’re doing something you have a passion for good things will happen in your career," he said.
And while living in close proximity to his students and fellow teachers presents a new challenge, rather than fearing any complications that will arise he said it will simply be another learning experience.
"I don’t have a lot of fears, I think that life is an adventure," he said.
And Kaplan can’t wait to embark on his next journey.
"I’m thrilled to death. I am really looking forward to it, I think it will be rewarding for me and the students," Kaplan said.
The Semester at Sea program, part of the Institute for Shipboard Education, is overseen by the University of Virginia. For more information visit: http://www.semesteratsea.com .