This fall, one JMU librarian will step out of the library to set sail toward the places he’s only read about in books.

Jonathan Paulo, the education librarian in Carrier Library, will embark on a “Semester at Sea” from Aug. 23 to Dec. 7. Organized by the University of Virginia, Semester at Sea acts largely like a college campus — but on a ship.

The MV Explorer, a 590-foot passenger ship, is equipped to carry more than 800 passengers. With nine state-of-the-art classrooms that include overhead projectors, close-circuit televisions, wireless Internet access, a multi-media lab, pool and three dining decks, the ship’s a floating campus. 

During Semester at Sea, roughly 500-700 students from across the country spend a semester on a ship, with the opportunity to take a variety of classes, including art, anthropology, biology, economics and urban planning. There’s a full faculty to teach classes for transferable credit from U.Va., along with a full staff, including Paulo, to recreate everything that would be present on a college campus. During the semester, the ship stops at different countries around the world to learn about their culture.

Paulo’s voyage will stop at 14 countries, including Ireland, Spain, Ghana, South Africa, Portugal and Brazil. 

“I felt that if I wanted to experience the world and see new things, I needed to go out of the country,” Paulo said. “But I thought maybe one day I’d go to one country, and now, all of a sudden, I have the opportunity to go to 14.”

Although Paulo has traveled before, his goal is to visit more than “just the beautiful spots.” 

“I want to see slave castles, townships and orphanages,” Paulo said. 

Paulo is one of two librarians (The other’s from U.Va.) chosen to travel to help manage a library of about 8,000 books. In exchange, Paulo gets to go for free, along with a stipend payment at the end of the voyage.

“Having a librarian from JMU at Semester at Sea raises the profile of the university, and it supports JMU’s values of diversity and cultural awareness,” said Elizabeth Haworth, director of public services.

Erika Peterson, director of media resources, was one collegue to recommend Paulo for the trip.  

“Jonathan is both committed to excellent service and student learning, but able to roll with the punches,” Peterson said. 

Of the experience as a whole, Paulo is expecting to see a change within himself after seeing how other cultures live.

“This will be life-changing, and I’m excited about that,” Paulo said. “I think I’ll come back transformed and more aware of the world around me.”

Contact Beth Wertz at