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BBA students return from the Semester at Sea voyage with triumph

27 Jun, 2017
As a common Chinese saying goes, "You can learn more by travelling a thousand miles than by reading a thousand books”, can you imagine how much one can learn by sailing over 20,000 miles at sea while studying? Jason Choi (BBA Finance, Year 4) and Rico Li (BBA Accounting, Year 2), who just made a triumphant return from the “floating campus” of Semester at Sea (SAS) after spending 105 days on board with students from around the globe, shared some highlights of the voyage and beyond classroom experience.
What motivated you to go for the Semester at Sea programme?
Jason: “At HKBU School of Business, there are always opportunities for us to go abroad and see the world. That’s why I went to Germany for a year-long exchange in the first place, from which I have gained new perspectives and invaluable exposure to different cultures. I could not resist the opportunity to embark on the Semester at Sea journey with the C.Y. Tung Scholarship, even though I will have to defer my graduation for one semester. My decision was proven right.”
Rico: "I have been longing to live the full university experience and step out of my comfort zone, so I decided to get onboard the SAS as the first step. With the School’s support, I was able to travel out of Asia for the first time, all on my own.”
How was the shipboard life?
Jason: “Other than regular coursework, there were loads of activities available onboard for us to mingle and learn around the topics of international relations:  attend seminars on a wide range of topics, go to the gym, enjoy movies, have parties, participate in athletic games, you name it. The shipboard life was so busy and fascinating that I feel so empty now after returning!”
Rico: “There were pre-port seminars to get us familiarised with the destinations before arrival, and diplomats and consular officials came onboard to meet with us upon the ship’s arrival at the destinations, providing us with an in-country briefing on the local’s socio-political updates.”
Parties, movies and sports…that sounds a lot more interesting than the study itself! Can you tell us more?
Jason: “With 600+ people from around the world onboard living closely together for three months, there was never a dull moment indeed! For example, the Sea Olympics gathered everyone onboard, including faculty and staff, dependent families and life-long learners, to compete against each other in games like synchronised swimming, rock paper scissors competition, trivia and other sporting events!”
Rico: “I think the Neptune Day was the most interesting party of all. It is a shipboard tradition to celebrate when the ship crosses the equator for the first time during a voyage. Many of us dressed or painted ourselves in green to party around, and some of them even shaved their heads. I was so shocked when I saw some ladies had their head shaved!”
You spent 3 months travelling to some rather unusual destinations for general tourists. Can you share with us some of your local experiences?
Jason: “When we were on a field class at a university in Cochin, India, I learnt about arranged marriage in India. The local students thought this was perfectly alright as they believed their parents would choose the best for them. I was startled at first, to be honest. However, after some discussion with the students, I understood that there’s no right or wrong, it’s just different. What we should do is learn to think from multiple perspectives about an issue before criticising, and respect others’ cultures and beliefs.”
Rico: “I joined quite a few field classes and impact programmes, like a research farm in Hawaii, a cocoa farm in Ghana, and a slum area in South Africa, to learn about environmental protection, fair trade and poverty problems in real-life. However, the most memorable one was when I was on independent travel with some other SAS students volunteering at an orphanage in India, where I saw a homeless man lying on the floor, struggling to breathe. I witnessed the death of a human being but could not offer any help – and that made me feel intensely small.”
I know this may sound cliché…do you have any lessons learned from the 3-month voyage?
Jason: “When I volunteered in an orphanage in Myanmar, we played a game called “button-up your shirt” with the kids. Everyone tried their best to win the game by buttoning-up as fast as possible, but a Japanese professor and his children slowed themselves down to wait for the local kids to catch up. After, they told me that it was because they wanted to help the poor kids build their confidence. The professor did that to teach his children by his actions, letting them understand that there were other values a lot more important and meaningful than winning a game. No one would teach you in the classroom how small gestures like this could make a big difference, you have to see and experience it yourself.”

Rico: “The incident in India got me started at looking at NGOs for more involvement in humanitarian work and environmental protection. I will start interning at Crossroads Foundation in July, an international NGO aiming at beating poverty. Bit by bit, I hope one day I will be able to leverage my professional knowledge learnt from the classroom to help those in need.”
Last question – what do you think about the SAS programme?
Jason: “As a final year student, I am proud of myself for having the chance to get onboard the SAS journey. I was able to travel the world, make close connections with international students and faculty with awesome backgrounds and experience, and change my world view. I believe this will become a conversation starter and something that will really make me stand out on all occasions, be it a job interview or applying for my further study.”
Rico: “Life at sea is like a mini-global village, where people from all sorts of backgrounds gather, where friendships were made, and where I learnt to know and face my fear. I was able to learn swimming during the voyage (which I had been struggling to learn for years) because I got support and encouragement from the friends I made onboard. The journey not only widened my horizon, it also helped me step out of my comfort zone successfully!”
With their incredible SAS journey, the two students will continue to share their experience and thoughts within and outside the School as invited. Apparently, their voyage has yet to finish – there is much more for them to learn, and more ways for them to enrich their skills and knowledge, beyond the classroom. The life-long learning journey goes on.
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