She has grown up in a district best known for its suicides and family tragedies, but Ada Tang Wai-yin does not fit the stereotypical image of a Tin Shui Wai student. While the media has largely portrayed the new town as a poverty-stricken area with dim prospects for residents, the articulate 18-year-old lacks the hallmarks of such disadvantage. She speaks fluent English and has her sights set on studying business administration at the University of Hong Kong before finding a job with a company or setting up her own public relations firm. For the moment she is focused on studying hard to ensure she meets university requirements, but there is an external factor over which she has little control - the prejudice attached to the 'City of Sadness'. 'There's no difference between people in Tin Shui Wai and others,' she wants people to know. 'Everyone has the ability to work well. I think we are enthusiastic to co-operate with others and build a better society.' Tackling the prejudices that beset Tin Shui Wai and giving students a glimpse at the opportunities that lay beyond their home district were the twin aims of a project which enabled 40 students to spend a day with 40 corporate volunteers from large companies last week. The project, organised by non-profit-making group Community Business, was a three-way link-up between a Tin Shui Wai NGO, the business community and the tertiary education sector. Students were able to share their stories with professionals from a range of industries as they experienced campus life at a local university. They then got an insider's view of the corporate world at the headquarters of Standard Chartered Bank, Starbucks, the MTR Corporation and Microsoft. While wealthy parents often spare no expense when it comes to extras like after-school tuition, and family business connections may provide some students with a valuable foot in the door, many Tin Shui Wai teenagers are forced to fend for themselves. Elisa Cheng Wai-hing, a social worker with the Evangelical Lutheran Church Integrated Youth Service Centre who has worked in the district for more than 15 years, said some students seldom went outside their local community. Putting them in contact with universities and the business community could help them set goals for the future. 'I think the most important thing is to broaden their horizons so that they can see that they can have another vision. They can plan more for their future. They can go outside this community to see the world, to make friends with different people,' said Ms Cheng, whose organisation helped select students from seven schools for the 'Journey of Opportunity' action day. Ms Cheng said some students believed university was beyond their reach - perhaps because of their academic performance or family background - but she saw many talented students who just needed an opportunity to tap their potential. 'The young people have energy and strength. I think that everything can be possible if you create more opportunities and help them to see the world differently,' she said, adding students needed to be inspired. Providing inspiration was one of the goals of last Friday's project. After meeting corporate volunteers from 15 companies at Ju Ching Chu Secondary School in Tin Shui Wai, the students, aged 16 to 18, boarded buses to either the University of Hong Kong or City University. There, they met students who gave them a taste of campus life and showed them what their future could be like. One of their campus guides, HKU journalism student Vinky Chan, said students should not perceive university as a privileged place reserved for students from prestigious schools. 'In the university there are many different types of students from different areas. It's a very mixed community and I think for those who have passion, with hard work they should have hopes of getting a tertiary education,' she said. Getting the much sought-after ticket to university is the aim for Rock Yau Kwok-leung. The 20-year-old Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School student moved to the area about 10 years ago from Guangdong province. If he can realise his goal of attending Chinese University, Rock will become the first in his family to get a university education. 'I'm looking forward to life at university,' he said. 'The thing I'm looking forward to most is studying my favourite subject - economics.' Rock, who hopes to find a job with a bank after graduating, knows how proud his parents would be if he is able to achieve his dream. 'They would say, 'it's the best thing you have done in your life'. They think if you can go to university you'll have a good future.' He rejects the idea that Tin Shui Wai is a city of tragedy, and says it offers charms not found in other districts, such as no noise pollution and friendly neighbours. Rock believes that if students try their best, they will get the opportunity to attend university. 'They need to help themselves rather than just depend on others, like teachers or parents,' he said. HKU social work professor and assistant dean, Joshua Mok Ka-ho, said rapid social change had left some people, especially new mainland migrants, without the skills necessary to succeed in today's knowledge-based economy. He said about half of Tin Shui Wai's population were new migrants. 'Quite a lot of them haven't got the right kind of knowledge or the skills required for the job market in Hong Kong,' he said. This lack of appropriate skills was often passed onto their children, and the cycle of poverty continued. 'In a global city like Hong Kong, there's lots of opportunities for people with the right kind of skills and knowledge, but not for poor families who don't have university education,' he said. Professor Mok stressed that the university did not only consider exam results when determining admission. It also looked for evidence of leadership skills and commitment to social service. Shalini Mahtani, founder and chief executive of Community Business, an organisation which promotes corporate social responsibility, said the aim of the project was to expose secondary school students to further education and the 'world of work'. 'Students learn that this is all very possible,' she said. Ms Mahtani said the business leaders who devised the project believed that passing their skills and knowledge onto students would be a tangible way of helping the community. But she said the corporate volunteers and university students also gained from the experience. 'I think it will open both sets of eyes and that learning on both sides will play some role in informing their lives,' she said. Before last week, Frankie Lee Ho-fai, a systems manager at ABN Amro, did not know much about Tin Shui Wai apart from what he had read in the newspapers. Now, having visited the area and met the students, Mr Lee said he no longer believed the 'City of Sadness' moniker applied. He said the students were concerned about the time and cost involved in travelling to other parts of Hong Kong, but he found they worked hard at school and some had achieved above-average results in their HKCEEs. 'They have already planned what they want to study at university,' he said. The idea that Tin Shui Wai has more to offer than what has been reported in the media was not news to another corporate volunteer, Paul Ching Kwok-wai. Mr Ching, a compliance adviser at Standard Chartered Bank, moved to Tin Shui Wai from New York last year, with no idea that his new home had been dubbed the 'City of Sadness'. 'I was really surprised. I just didn't detect that sorrow,' he said. 'I knew it wasn't as rich as Hong Kong Island. You see poverty but compared to New York, it's much worse there. I don't have to be on my guard all the time like I used to be.' Mr Ching said the students he met were enthusiastic and communicated well. 'They're good kids ... What I really wanted to do was try to inspire them to continue on with their education,' he said. When asked what the business community needed to learn about districts like Tin Shui Wai, he said: 'They need to look at people with an open mind - don't just push them aside because they come from a bad part of town.' Having glimpsed what her future could hold, Ada Tang returned to life at Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School this week. After watching her elder sister graduate from university, she knows what can be achieved. 'Through education it can give me and all of us in Tin Shui Wai many more opportunities to change our lives,' she said. 'I think everybody knows if they really put the effort in, they can do anything they want.'