Students at one school find sponsored trips give them a new perspective on the world around them, writes Mabel Sieh
Hong Kong is regarded as a rich city by many but for some children, travelling overseas is a luxury. This is true for many of the 800-plus students at CMA Secondary School in Shek Kip Mei, Kowloon.
'One-third of our students come from families whose monthly incomes are about HK$8,000. Some are new immigrants from China. Many have never even been to Central, let alone flown anywhere,' says principal Mak Yiu-kwong.
This is why Mak began a series of educational programmes outside Hong Kong. 'I want to give students a chance to see the world. I believe that will broaden their horizons and boost their confidence,' says Mak, who became the school's principal in 2008.
So far, more than 100 students have been taken on trips to Macau, the mainland, Singapore and recently New Zealand.
Crystal Wong Wing-hang and Roney Lee Long-fung were among the 11 students who were sponsored to go on a study trip to New Zealand last month. The 11-day trip would have cost them HK$12,000 each, but they only paid HK$2,000 with the school sponsoring the rest.
'It was so boring on the plane. I had swollen feet,' says 18-year-old Crystal who had never travelled by air before.
'But the trip was magnificent. We rarely get the chance to speak English in Hong Kong. In New Zealand, we used English and talked to the residents all the time.'
Crystal and Roney stayed with a host family and took part in a language course during their stay in Queenstown on New Zealand's South Island.
'The couple in my host family chatted with me after dinner and gave me advice on life issues and I liked that. It's so different from Hong Kong where we disappear from the dining table and do our own things,' Crystal says.
Roney says he found the language classes very interactive. 'The lessons were problem-based and we were asked to discuss topics and come up with solutions. The students, who were from different countries, were very engaged in asking questions. That motivated me to ask questions too.'
The language course was found by Nina Gupta, the NET at CMA. With another English teacher, Gupta led the trip and cared for the students.
'The idea is to immerse them in a native-speaking culture and to give them a feel of a different world,' says Gupta who has been a NET in Hong Kong for five years.
'When they travel outside [Hong Kong], they have to learn how to accommodate other people, their lifestyle and mindset. This is something they can't learn in textbooks.'
Roney got a feel of the local culture when he learned 'kappa haka' - a form of traditional Maori performance art. 'At first, it felt funny to chant and dance with the Maori chief. But when I immersed myself in it, I actually felt like a man,' says Roney, who has brought the ritual back to school. 'We dance and chant before playing basketball now. It's good fun.'
The biggest gain for him, though, is a change of life perspective. 'The people there are relaxed and non-materialistic. It made me rethink my future. Before, I was only interested in a well-paid job like a lawyer. Now I want a career that really interests me.'
As for Crystal, she has learned to take control of her life. 'The trip made me realise I need to be more independent. I am used to being protected by my parents. Now I should learn to take care of myself and make my own decisions.'