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Students on voyage of discovery

CHINESE students travel aboard the Peace Boat, a floating international goodwill university, introducing Chinese culture to others and learning first-hand about foreign cultures when they stop in port. Yang Jian weighs anchor.

Seven Chinese university students and a teacher learned some of the most difficult and important lessons of their life when they sailed around the world on a cruise ship peace voyage. They saw chaos in Cairo's Tahrir Square, heard prayer chants along the Nile, met apes and spiders in the rain forests of Guatemala, and shopped for beautiful clothes in Amsterdam.
Travel indeed has broadened the horizons of the students of the Ocean University of China in Qingdao, in China's Shandong Province.

As passengers on the 39,000-ton Oceania, the project of a Japanese NGO called Peace Boat, they also learned the hardships of maritime life, even in modern times: loneliness, seasickness, bad food, nasty weather and insects.

But over 50,000 kilometers and 106 days they also learned about diversity and difference, about the importance of comradeship and bridging gaps - and about the things common to people everywhere.

They embarked on their journey starting in Yokohama, Japan, on July 19 and stopped in around 20 countries. They returned to home port on November 1.

Other passengers included travelers and other students from around the world who paid for the trip and volunteers who came aboard to serve the travelers, as cooks, porters and waiters.

Port calls included Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Norway, Colombia, Panama and Mexico.

"Learning through travel is a new concept in teaching, as students can finish their studies on the boat through investigation and experience," says Ouyang Xia, leader and teacher of the team.

Senior Cao Shijia, a major in marine science, still remembers when she first saw the cruise ship with Peace Boat written on the hull. "It was much more beautiful and bigger than I thought," she says. "I imagined it a thousand times, but the actual ship was unimaginable."

It was rare for Chinese students to undertake such a goodwill voyage around the world to promote Chinese culture and learn along the way, the Chinese students say.

Peace Boat, a non-government organization established in 1983 in Japan, aims to promote peace, environmental protection and volunteer work.

The boat is a traveling university, providing a platform for young people from around the world to learn about the world and about its oceans. It has made around 75 voyages, about twice a year.

Cao and her fellows were selected through competitions and took professional language training before setting sail. Their majors varied, including English, earth sciences, chemistry and law.

To Pan Guozhang, a senior in Ocean and Earth Science, the one-day trip to Cairo in August was most memorable because of popular unrest there.

"We saw fires around Tahrir Square and we felt terrified though guides reassured us it was safe," Pan recalls.

"However, when we left the country and we sailed along the Suez Canal, we could hear prayers chanted along the banks and I felt great peace in my heart," he says.

Cao and other female students had to wear long-sleeved shirts, modest skirts and hats or scarves when they visited Jordan, where Muslim custom requires women to dress modestly. But it was around 30 degrees Celsius, and modesty was uncomfortable.

"The happiest time for female students was arrival in Amsterdam (the Netherlands) where we could finally wear beautiful clothes," Cao says.

In Central America they visited primary rain forests and appreciated the animals, birds and insects. "It was an amazing trip. We also ran into a large group of apes and other animals in the forest," senior Yu Jingyi says.

However, the students had also encountered many difficulties on the ship during their more than 50,000 kilometers' voyage.

"Staying on the sea is the loneliest experience in the world and we had to cope with many difficulties such as bad food, insects and illness. It was very hard to live on a boat," senior student Yu Jingyi says.

At the beginning, Chinese students had trouble getting used to the food aboard ship and in foreign ports. Guo Xiaolan still has marks from the insect bites that covered her arms and kept her awake scratching aboard ship at night.

"But I had to get up early the next morning, because I had to teach other travelers some Chinese," Guo says. The students introduced Peking Opera and folk songs and taught travelers how to tie complicated Chinese good-luck knots.

"Most of us did not know each other at the beginning but all of us became life-long friends by the end of the journey," team member Sun Letian says.

 

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