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Young alumni stories: Four weeks on the high seas

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One ship, four weeks, 240 guests from 11 countries, a dawn-to-dusk schedule, a tiny cabin shared with two roommates, one day off a fortnight and absolutely no internet. That’s the Ship for World Youth experience Master of Public Health student Jordina Quain signed up for in what she describes as a ‘a once in a life-time opportunity’.

Students pose in front of cruise ship

Ship for World Youth (SWY) is an international exchange program funded by the Japanese government, which aims to develop leaders who can work in a globalised world of diverse communities. SWY offers young people from all over the world the opportunity to take time out from their regular lives to spend six weeks sailing across the ocean while they discuss common global issues, experience cultural exchange, and join seminars and workshops conducted by experts and SWY participants.

The unique program is a high-voltage mix of on-deck activities, formal events and ceremonies, and tours of various countries as the ship – the Nippon Maru – makes its way from Japan to Singapore to India to Sri Lanka. Prior to their departure, participants spent two weeks in Japan for a training program and a homestay. In 2018, the 30th anniversary of SWY, the countries invited to join Japan were Australia, India, Peru, Poland, Oman, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Mozambique, South Africa and Spain, and the SWY participants visited Japan, Singapore, India and Sri Lanka.

Jordina, who was the Australian delegation Assistant National Leader on the ship, a role that saw her meet the Crown Prince of Japan, Naruhito, is building a career as a global sexuality and relationships educator. SWY offered her a valuable opportunity to meet like-minded people from diverse cultures to exchange ideas, experiences and opinions, and to present on her specific area of interest and expertise; children’s rights.

The Australian contingent on the deck of the Nippon Maru.

“I applied for SWY because I have always had a huge interest in leadership training and cross cultural collaboration. My career goal is to work internationally so, while I have received a lot of leadership training from the John Curtin Leadership Academy, I was really interested to move that training to a global scale. The idea of being completely immersed in multiple cultures and being offered opportunities to work together on projects was incredibly appealing to me,” she said.

“My course discussion was children’s rights, which involved attending multiple sessions to discuss the rights of children around the world, the main issues and what we can do to combat them. I was also required to present on the state of children’s rights in Australia.

Life on deck

If there’s one word to describe daily life on board the Nippon Maru it’s busy. From the moment participants are woken with piped music through their shared cabins to the final evening session after dinner, they have a packed schedule of activities including courses, workshops, training and meetings, all run with a distinctively Japanese efficiency.

“A typical day was waking up to music that was played over the ship speakers, breakfast was open from 7.30am to 8.30am, and we all had to assemble in the main hall of the ship by 8.45am for a temperature check, which monitored whether anyone was sick or not. This was a huge concern as living in such close quarters illness easily spreads,” Jordina said.

“Then we would have morning announcements from 9.00am to 10.00am, then often a participant workshop from 10.00am to 12.00pm where participants on the ship could run a workshop on a topic of their choice to educate others on the ship. I ran a workshop on LGBTIQA+ and how to be an inclusive leader.

“Then lunch would be from 12.00pm to 1.30pm. In the afternoon we would attend our course discussion from 1.30pm to 5.00pm. Then we would have a letter group meeting from 5.00pm to 6.30pm, which is essentially your little family on the ship where there is a person from each of the 10 overseas countries and 10 Japanese participants. Here we’d receive more notices or updates about the program or happenings on the ship. From 6.30pm to 7.30pm was dinner and then after dinner sometimes we would have leadership or project management training all together in the main hall till 9.00pm. Always very full days!

“We would get one day off a fortnight but we still had to meet to have our temperature checked, and often there were participants running voluntary workshops, trainings or activities throughout the day, so there was always something to do and not much down time.”

Jordina welcomed the opportunity for cross-cultural collaboration.

Jordina quickly adapted to life at sea, bonding with her two Japanese cabin mates, getting her sea legs and even using the 300 metre deck as a running track for her daily exercise. Although she was prepared to connect with her SWY peers, she cites the lifelong friendships she developed with the other participants as the most surprising aspect of the program. Intriguingly, she believes the absence of the internet, while challenging, was critical to creating the space for friendships to blossom.

“I think the most unexpected part was the strong friendships that I made. I thought I’d make friends on the trip but it was more like we all made a big family. Going through such an intensive and unique experience really brought all 240 participants together in a way that I don’t think any of us expected,” she said.

“The worst and best part of the program was not having any internet. It was hard to not be able to contact friends and family but it also created the atmosphere where everyone was completely immersed and present in the program and the experience. I don’t think a lot of the deep connections and conversations could or would have occurred if there was internet.

“I know there will be a SWY30 network that can be called upon for the rest of my life – whether that’s a message to let a team know I’m coming to their country, asking for career or life advice, pitching an idea, sharing an opportunity or just having them as a constant source of inspiration and support.

“It really is a once in a life-time opportunity that in some way will change you as a person and a leader. Australia is invited again next year as the ship will be stopping in Australia so I encourage all people interested in leadership and global issues to apply!”

SWY particpants had the opportunity to visit Japan, Singapore, India and Sri Lanka.

Self reflection and broader horizons

Although an experienced traveller, Jordina found participating in the SWY program and being exposed to so many diverse personal histories, life experiences and points of view, offered her an unexpected opportunity to reflect on her own and Australia’s values. It also reassured her of the importance of her chosen career, and her ability to make meaningful change in the world.

“Experiences on the ship certainly broadened my world view. Although I have travelled a fair bit, it’s a very different opportunity to live, work and play with people from other countries and cultures. I learnt a lot of nuances about other cultures which allowed me to reflect upon the values and attitudes that I hold myself and that Australia holds as a whole,” she said.

“I feel my career as a global sexuality and relationships educator has been reaffirmed from the experience. After hearing of so many struggles and difficulties faced globally for people relating to their sexuality, relationships or sexual health, I am more motivated than ever to use education to prevent such injustices from occurring.

“It may sound super corny, but the program gave me insight into my own capabilities. I had room to experiment, push my own boundaries and expand my world view. Having such a supportive Australian delegation, especially, allowed me to grow as an individual but most importantly to learn to trust myself and my abilities.

“Feedback from a team that knows you so well was very valuable to me and taught me that the only thing holding me back from a lot of opportunities is myself and my own fear of failure. That will be an insight that will stay with me well into the future and I feel has already created a turning point for me and my self-confidence.”

Alumni snapshot

Name: Jordina Quain

Studied: Bachelor of Arts (Performance Studies); Graduate Diploma in Sexology; Graduate Diploma in Health Promotion.

Now studying: Master of Public Health


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