USF professor prepares for cruise of a lifetime
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 00:03
Sitting back in his desk chair wearing aviator shades and a leather jacket, Africana Studies professor Bryan Shuler appeared to be completely at ease in his office despite his upcoming adventure on a National Geographic cruise bound for West Africa as a cultural expert.
“It’s really exciting for me,” he said. “I’m psyched. It’s been a break-neck eight weeks.”
Scholars and explorers across the world seek National Geographic cruises, which cost roughly between $29,000 and $55,000. Serving the most interested learners, the trips are less of a luxury vacation upon a floating city — like most well-known cruises — and more of a cultural expedition to explore an unfamiliar land.
With only eight weeks until his adventure begins, Shuler’s expedition will not be his first to Africa.
During his years as a graduate student in composition at USF, Shuler applied and was invited to be the composer in residence for the national dance company of Ghana. He wanted to study the relationship between musicians and dancers, and had been working as an accompaniment to both USF and professional dance companies.
“I went over believing that I was just going to go over as a composer,” Shuler said. “I became enthralled with the culture, not only in Ghana but throughout West Africa.”
Soon after, Shuler was awarded a Fulbright fellowship at the dance company located in Accra, Ghana, where his father once lived.
“When I returned from Africa to go to FSU, I was already stamped with the assumption that I was an Africanist and I didn’t put that name on myself,” he said.
While working in Ghana, Shuler began to take an interest in ethnomusicology — a branch of anthropology which is the study of a culture through its music. While at FSU, Shuler took courses in the subject and upon his return to USF began teaching in the music department as an ethnomusicologist. However, over the years he has taught much more, such as dance and cartography.
Shuler was recommended for the National Geographic cruise as cultural expert by another anthropologist who has worked for National Geographic in the past.
“This is definitely a great honor to be associated with National Geographic and Lindblad. They have an international reputation,” Shuler said. “It was a truly great honor to be recommended by a peer, who was recognized in the anthropology community who is an author and definitely has set his place.”
Shuler’s expedition on the National Geographic Explorer was put together by National Geographic and Lindblad, a group that has been specializing in running expeditions fordecades. The cruise, which left March 18, will visit 17 countries through sea and land excursions during a 37 day period.
“We’ll go into rainforests, we’ll walk into villages, probably go up the Congo River (and) we’ll visit pigmy villages,” Shuler said. “We’re going to hit something extremely unusual in every one of those 17 countries.”
While the trip is called a cruise, for Shuler, it’s a work expedition.
He will give eight formal lectures with power points and will accompany the groups during the land excursions to guide 148 guests through their immersion of the West African culture.
“It’s jam-packed with so many countries so quickly,” Shuler said.
In addition to preparing his work for National Geographic, Shuler also needed to prepare his students for his absence. Temporarily, Shuler organized lectures for face-to-face classes including Dr. Roy Copeland and Phil Gans, a holocaust survivor.
“The priority of teaching was so important that when they offered me the position the first question that came out of my mouth was ‘will I have reliable computer access to teach my classes while I’m gone?’ If the answer is yes, I’m in. If the answer is no I’m going to beg apologies,” Shuler said. “I realize that I have a commitment to my students, I have a commitment to this university and if that commitment was able to stay intact while I’m traveling great, if not then this commitment was actually prioritized over National Geographic.”
Shuler said he wants to share the knowledge he has gained through this and his past experiences with his students to broaden their horizons and prepare them for the future.
“You always have to expand yourself,” Shuler said. “I believe that knowledge is power, and I believe that the more educated a people are, the more power the individual and the people have over anything. The more educated a people are, the freer they are.”