Students broaden their horizons during worldwide tour aboard luxury liner

IMAGINE going to university on a luxury liner while cruising the world. Your lessons involve exploring 10 of the world's most famous and beautiful places: one day you may be at the Great Wall of China and another, at the Egyptian pyramids.

The rest of the time you are sailing the high seas aboard the SS Universe Explorer, which is a cruise ship when not full of students.

The Semester-at-Sea programme gives 650 university students from around the world the chance to go on a 100-day voyage.

The new friends become exploring companions as they visit each port or a famous site on well-organised field trips. Dinner is served in the cafeteria, the flashy ship casino doubles as the library and seasickness is a genuine reason for skipping classes.

A complete tertiary-level curriculum is offered with 100 subjects, ranging from anthropology to zoology, and the course work is accredited back to your university degree. And yes, there is some spare time away from the books for partying. But with just a handful of terminals with Internet access on board, be prepared to go without much contact from family and friends back home.

Some students enthusiastically told Young Post on their stopover in Hong Kong recently that the highlights of the trip were meeting other young people, staying with local families in different countries, being guided by good teachers, learning about the world and generally having a great time.

Most students are from American universities, but there are also Canadians, Europeans and Australians.

Semester-at-sea is open to students from around the world provided they can arrange the course credits with their university. The ship sails three times a year on different routes, depending on the season. The latest trip, in August, left Canada for the Middle East and north Africa, but changed course for South America after the attacks in the United States on September 11.

Lessons are relaxed and held in classrooms overlooking the sea, so it is no surprise to be interrupted by cries of 'whale!' as one passes by.

Semester-at-Sea is run by the Institute for Shipboard Education.The University of Pittsburgh oversees the academic side of the programme. But the worldwide adventure aboard a luxury liner comes at a price - from between US$15,000 (HK$117,000) to US$18,000. Field trips, like the recent three-day visit to Beijing, are not included.

Psychology undergraduate Bailey Jordan, 21, from South Carolina, says she was pleased when she found out about the voyage on the Internet. 'It's so challenging! You don't just learn about the countries, you learn about the culture, and then you see it so you apply everything.'

Dominic Holy, 20, an economics student from Germany, says it is great mixing with people from other countries and the voyage helped brush up his language skills.

'It's great to be able to see countries other than Germany and America while still studying. I also get to improve my English,' he says.

If the programme appeals to you, you will need to fill out an application form, usually a year before you want to travel.