Learning the ropes

Overseas Education | Jourdan Ma 24 Apr 2018

A norwegian ship-cum-school that's home to 60 students for an academic year promises to give youngsters the trip of a lifetime while teaching them valuable lessons in life.

The 90-year-old, full-rigged Sorlandet, operated by A+ World Academy, annually takes students in grades 11 and 12 around the world.

The itinerary is subject to weather conditions, health and political stability of the destinations.

The ship sets sail from Norway every August and returns in June. Students spend 70 percent of their time on the ship and get to visit 20 locations including Portugal, Argentina, South Africa, St Helena, and the Caribbean nations.

Half of the time in port is designated as shore leave when students explore the place on their own and prepare college applications. They are also free to scuba dive, surf, kite and wakeboard.

Parents are welcome to join the ship at two of the ports of call and talk to teachers about how their children are faring.

Benjamin Gronvold, director of admission, said students should be prepared for something that pushes them to the limit but gives them lifelong memories.

The expedition immerses students in different cultures and heightens their awareness of the environment.

Students currently on board have gone on a day trip to the Mayan site Chichen Itza in Mexico, a four-day hike into the rainforest in Colombia, along with a visit to Ernest Hemingway's home in Havana in Cuba. Recent stops at Miami and the Bahamas enabled them to take a break and enjoy the sandy beaches.

The school follows the Advanced Placement curriculum. Courses include English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, politics, history and foreign languages. Each class is usually limited to 15 students.

The lack of access to the internet at sea is not an issue, as teachers use school books, as well as prepare videos and articles in advance. "When students are on shore and have wi-fi, they need to prepare for their assignment. It's going to be hard at the beginning, but they adapt quickly. Ten years ago people didn't use Google that often," Gronvold said.

They will not only gain flexibility, but also a boatload of friends. The majority of the students are Norwegian, while others come from Britain, the US, Mexico, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Austria, Spain and Portugal. Crew members include the dean, teachers, seamen, cooks and a medic.

"Students learn to develop a 'we' instead of a 'me' mentality. Every choice they make has consequences. If they spend too much time in the shower, no fresh water will be left for their classmates," he said.

Students sleep in hammocks and share a room with 30 people. "Normally they wake up at 7am, followed by breakfast and morning assembly at 8am. We raise the flag, make announcements and tell them what day is it - which they usually have no idea," he joked.

"They later do their daily chores, have their lessons and finally dinner."

The greatest challenge is neither seasickness nor homesickness, but time management. Apart from school work, students take turns to help the cooks in preparing meals. They are also in charge of steering the ship, performing two-hour night watches and maintenance.

They are expected to hone their nautical skills, while learning about accountability, leadership and team spirit.

To get enrolled, having good grades isn't enough. Reference letters and a 300-word personal essay are required. Sailing experience is not necessary, but applicants should be able to swim 200 meters non-stop and immediately tread water for 20 minutes.

Those with English as a second language should attain a minimum of 6.5 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

The tuition fee for international students is 56,000 euros (HK$539,000). Extra costs include insurance, vaccinations, visas and pocket money ashore.

Applications are processed on a rolling basis and there are still openings for August's sailing.

Website: www.aplusworldacademy.org

jourdan.ma@singtaonewscorp.com

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