Can you travel and earn credits for your studies at the same time? A study-cum-travel programme has given conventional learning a new dimension in response to globalisation. And this time, it is at sea, TAN EE LOO reports.
WHO wouldn’t jump at the chance of travelling to eight countries on five continents for 16 weeks on a luxury cruise?
Backed by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, The Scholar Ship is a programme that aims to offer 600 students an inter-cultural learning environment that integrates academic, cultural and social experiences all in one journey.
And the next best thing is that students can study, travel and earn credits for their undergraduate or postgraduate studies after completing the programme on board, provided approval has been given by their home institutions.
The inaugural voyage is expected to begin next September in Piraeus, Greece, and will sail to eight countries namely Portugal, Panama, Ecuador, Tahiti, Fiji Australia, China, and Japan.
The Scholar Ship regional director (Asia Pacific) Peter Gainey says there could be similar programmes, but none have gone to this level to create an intercultural and vigorous academic programme.
He says The Scholar Ship president Dr Joseph D. Olander is one of the leaders who initiated the project in the late 1990s and subsequently approached the cruise company to get it started.
Although it is about 10 months before the first voyage, The Scholar Ship has received at least 200 applications from three key regions – the Americas, Asia/Pacific and Europe/Middle-East/Africa. A second voyage has been scheduled for January 2008.
For undergraduates, the choice of programmes include art and culture, conflict studies, international business and communication and sustainable development.
At postgraduate level, students can pursue studies in international business, international communication and international relations.
Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has been designated, by the Consortium of Academic Stewards, to award academic credits and transcripts to students upon completion of the programme aboard the ship.
“Postgraduate students can do one semester aboard the ship and complete the rest of the masters degree programme, which requires another semester at the Macquarie University,” Gainey says.
He adds that students can be assured that life on board will not be confined to classroom-based learning.
“On average, students will spend several days at each port. There will also be opportunities for field trips, excursions and independent travel for those who want to discover the ports that we will call on,” he says.
“However, the ship will not be stopping in the United States.
“Our market research conducted in early 2005 has indicated that people are quite familiar with the country, so we have decided not to stop over in North America,” he says.
As Asians are commonly seen as less adventurous, compared with Americans or Europeans, Gainey was asked if he has a strategic plan to attract Malaysian students to join the programme.
“We may only need five to 10 students from each country to ensure an intercultural learning environment. Besides meeting the academic requirements, the students must be able to prove that they are interested in cross-cultural communication and leadership development.
“However, career enhancement would more likely be a key factor for a person who wants to get a job with the United Nations or United Nations Development Programme,” he says.
He adds that there is an increasing number of multinational companies that are seeking employees with wide international exposure.
The global experience that the students gain onboard should enhance their career prospects in business, government and education.
Besides, undergraduates will receive a certificate in intercultural leadership after completing the programme.
Life on board
On board the ship, students will be matched with roommates from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
They will be provided with accommodation that come with private bathrooms.
Gainey says one of the issues that most students, who have contacted his office, are concerned about is safety.
However, he stresses that they will do their best to ensure security at each port.
“There will also be a wide range of support services including accessibility to 24-hour healthcare facilities with trained medical officers and mental health professionals.
“As a safety feature, students are not allowed to bring alcohol on board. Although the ship may have a bar, students cannot buy more than two drinks,” he says.
He adds that there will also be opportunity for religious observance.
Besides, students will get to enjoy facilities including swimming pool, theatre, indoor rock-climbing, fitness centre and learning resource centre.
More importantly, the students will not leave a port city without interacting with the local community.
To promote interaction with the local community, the ship will also host leaders or experts, who will be sharing their knowledge and expertise with the students.
Scholarships up for grabs
As good as it may sound, the programme comes with a price tag of about US$19,950 (RM72,588), which will cover tuition fee, accommodation and meals on board.
The fee does not include travel fares to and from the port of embarkation and debarkation, visa expenses and independent travel.
Gainey says there are 144 scholarships worth US$5,000 (RM18,192) each, available for applicants who want to apply for financial aid. He says that they are engaging multinational companies to co-fund financial aid for students.
Malaysian students would be required to obtain visas from Australia, China, Panama and Ecuador, he adds.
Some students may find the programme fee a little expensive. However, he says they should look at the learning experience that could give them an edge when they join the workforce.
“The programme fee includes accommodation, tuition fee and living expenses on board which is equivalent to what you will spend at a high-end university in North America.
“Plus, it will cost about US$90,000 (RM367,465) to operate a cruise liner a day, based on the reports we have,” he says.
The closing date for applications for the September voyage next year is April 30, 2007.
For more information, visit www.thescholarship.com
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