Jason Choi: From books in the hand to distant lands
23 Mar 2018
During the four years at university, Jason Choi travelled across Europe, Asia, America and Africa, visiting nearly 30 countries. You would be forgiven for thinking he is a travel expert or a professional backpacker, after all, he is keen on exploring different cultures through travelling. That's why he seized the opportunity to enrol in a student exchange programme in Germany when he was in Year 3 and embarked on the Semester at Sea (SAS) journey in Year 4, enjoying a unique voyage of learning.
Jason, who graduated from the BBA-Finance programme in 2017, recalled the four and a half years of university life, which he described as fulfilling and challenging. Longing to live abroad, Jason went on exchange in Berlin when he was in Year 3 though he noticed the SAS's enrollment poster a long time ago, as he wished to gain some overseas experience before applying for SAS.
“The learning atmosphere abroad was very lively. Students actively initiated discussions in class. My life as an exchange student that year was an eye-opening experience. It was the first time I lived on my own, and I learnt how to solve all the problems encountered in my life and studies. Apart from this, I also made good use of my holidays and designed my own itineraries for travelling around various European countries.” Upon his return to Hong Kong, Jason again immersed himself in campus life. Once again he spotted a call for applications, and this time submitted his application for SAS without hesitation. With the US$20,000 (approximately HK$156,000) C Y Tung scholarship and the University's sponsorship, he finally went onboard the floating campus last spring and studied together with students from around the world.
SAS is the world's premier global comparative education programme open to undergraduate students of all majors from around the world. Its “campus” is a nine-storey ship with a great variety of facilities apart from bedrooms and classrooms, such as theatres, gymnasiums and swimming pools. In 2017, Jason embarked on a global voyage from California (USA), calling at 12 cities including Kobe (Japan), Rangoon (Myanmar), Tema (Accra) of Ghana (Africa), Cochin (India) and Shanghai (China) before the journey ended at Hamburg (Germany). The voyagers stayed at each destination for four to six days, and the whole journey lasted 105 days.
Apart from Global Studies and Sino-American Relations, which are compulsory subjects, programme participants could choose two electives. The programme covered an extensive range of subjects, from humanities, geography, commercial studies to oceanography. At each port of call, there would be lectures given by local guest teachers, and field classes available for enrolment by interested students. Whenever the ship was approaching a destination, students would pre-study the local customs and history before going ashore for sightseeing and field study so that they could experience the local culture authentically.
“I was most impressed by South Africa, where the scenery, architecture and ethnic cultures were all very fascinating. During my field class, I could vividly visualise the effects of apartheid, a South African policy that I had learnt in the classroom. I also gained highly inspiring experiences from my volunteer service in Myanmar and visits to the slum areas in South Africa as well as contact with kids infected with AIDS. All these have enhanced my understanding of the importance of education.” Witnessing the inadequacy of education in an underdeveloped area, Jason, who has been brought up in an affluent society, fully understood that education is the only means that can change the next generation's fate. In view of this, he resolved to dedicate himself to humanitarian service so as to improve the lives of future generations in developing countries.
In addition to getting firsthand knowledge of the history and culture of various places through participation in field classes, Jason also proactively discussed with overseas counterparts aboard the vessel. “There were over 600 fellow students onboard. In the very beginning, I hardly knew anyone. But later, I took the initiative to approach others and made a lot of friends.” According to Jason, the life on the ship was vibrant and colourful, and there were plenty of eye-opening traditions. “It's a usual practice that when the ship is crossing the equator, a special ceremony would be held to celebrate it. All of us had to kiss a fish and jump into the pool. All these were great fun that brought me fond memories despite my hectic study schedule on the vessel.”
The four-month voyage did not only broaden Jason's horizons, but also changed him from an introversive fellow to a brave young man who proactively makes the acquaintance of strangers. He learned how to accept those who are culturally different from him. Now, Jason is ready for another study trip; he will take up a master's programme abroad in September, continuing on his quest for knowledge, from books in the hand to distant lands.
Details of the C Y Tung Scholarship for Semester at Sea (2018 Fall Voyage):