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The Boulder

Barreto is the Q. G. Noblitt professor of economics and management at DePauw. He was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami. He is teaching the fall semester for Semester at Sea, as he also did in 2005.

I am confronted by too much good fortune to deny it. I am on sabbatical this fall, teaching on a floating university.

My students have almost boundless energy and curiosity. My classroom onboard offers challenges – you can’t use the internet to get the latest data or show a short video to demonstrate a point, and there are distractions galore – but my students, who are creating a price index to compare costs of living, will collect data at each port on five products of their choosing. They will understand what price indices do and their drawbacks in a way that cannot be duplicated in the typical college setting. (Follow our voyage here: https://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/fall-2019/.)

Our first stop was Gdansk, Poland, so I emailed a Polish student of mine, Michal Opieczonek, from my days at Wabash College, where I taught before joining DePauw. My spouse Tami and I met Michal and his mother, Gabriela, at Neptune’s Fountain in Gdansk. They travelled from Katowice in southern Poland to the Baltic coast. We had a wonderful dinner and the next day we gave them a tour of our ship, the MV World Odyssey.

We went to Sopot, a nearby beach town, and took a train to Malbork Castle (for photos, visit http://tiny.cc/polandF19). Michal translated because his mom does not speak English. I was born in Cuba and I was flooded with memories of translating for my parents. It’s hard work.

There was much to see and learn about Poland! I was like a little kid in a candy store. I thought much about squaring obvious signs of economic progress with the fatalistic, pessimistic Polish psyche. With indicators pointing up and construction everywhere, Poles deny that times are good, or even getting better. At one point, I asked Gabriela if she thought she was lucky. I expected her to say no, but she sighed and said she could not answer that question. After millennia of invasion and the trauma of World War II followed by Soviet communism, it’s best to expect the worst.

Later, when a student stopped by my office hours on Deck 7 aft, we paused to admire the endless wind turbines on the Baltic Sea. I will take my Law and Economics students to Gibraltar to learn about border conflict after reading an article on border walls. Tomorrow, students in my Development course will discuss Portuguese and Spanish exploration in the New World and Far East in David Landes’ “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor,” then they will explore Iberia to see for themselves what Landes was saying about these cultures.

Landes ended his book with, “In this world, the optimists have it, not because they are always right, but because they are positive.” I am positive that I am lucky.

First Person

is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.

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