Numbers Speak: Job Opportunities and International Exchange Programs for Female Maritime Cadets
% of females
2.1 Cultural Awareness and World Vision
The Massachusetts Maritime Academy is a principal maritime educational institute in the US, with a focus on excellent ocean-centric majors like Marine Engineering and Marine Transportation. However, as a state college, the great majority of cadets enrolled are from Massachusetts and other local areas in New England, a region in the North-Eastern corner of the United States. The academy has shown, more or less, the features of homogeneity and conservativeness. Thanks to the vision and courage of President Gurnon, MMA stepped out of its comfort zone in response to the proposal of SMU in China, and set up the MMA-SMU exchange program in 2008. The exchange program was the first international exchange program at MMA. Among all American maritime institutes, MMA is still the only institution which offers a successful international exchange program with Chinese maritime universities. The following school-wide survey of 109 cadets in 2011, show how the cadets perceived the program and how prepared they were in regards to international travel.
Table 2 indicates how extensively (or not quite) American students travelled outside the US and places they felt comfortable going to. Only a few American students had gone to Asian countries (except China), such as Israel, Jordan, India, and Japan and three had visited China, including one American-born Vietnamese. Around three-fourths of responding cadets made trips to Canada; a country that holds similar political, economic, social and cultural systems to the USA. And yet out of the 85 students who had visited Canada, all of them went to English-speaking areas like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, and only one third had gone to French-speaking areas like Montreal and Quebec City. About 31 % of the respondents toured European countries, and the highly frequented destinations were Italy, Ireland, Portugal and England. To a great extent, this is due to the fact that many of the respondents are descendant of the British, Italian, Portuguese and Irish, can still speak the language, or have family members living in Europe. One cadet explained that his grandfather lived in a village outside of Rome and he has more than 20 Italian cousins.
The world travelling by MMA cadets
Destination of travel
Percentage of survey participants (%)
Asian countries (except China)
Caribbean, South and Latin American countries
The statistics in Table 2, also shows that nearly all of the MMA cadets paid visits to Caribbean, South and Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Barbados, Puerto Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica and Tortola. That is mainly because cadets at MMA are required to take sea terms, and the countries in Caribbean, South and Latin American regions are usually the planned destination when the cadets take voyages with the school training ship.
Therefore, it is well expected that the MMA exchange students would unavoidably experience some “culture shock” when they go to China and try to blend into the new environment in such a swift period of time. The term, “culture shock”, was first introduced by an anthropologist and economist, Kalervo Oberg, as a disease suffered by individuals living in a new environment. According to Oberg, culture shock resulted from the loss of well-known signs and symbols, causing individuals to experience anxiety, frustration and helplessness (Oberg 1960). To fully realize the stress MMA exchange cadets might face in China, the MMA-SMU program was designed in such a way which mitigates culture shock to the minimum. The effective measures include assigning one Chinese student and one American student as roommates, free selection of courses, extensive classes of language and culture, and cultural trips to enhance the understanding of the host country.
Table 3 presents the five major questions in the survey, taken in 2011 and 2013 respectively, and the answers the participating cadets selected. For each of the questions, the cadets had three choices, “positive”, “negative” or “neutral”, and gave one answer per question. They were also asked to provide further explanations to each of their choices.
Answers to questionnaires (2011 and 2013)
The impact the China program would impose on MMA?
How will the China program influence you?
Do you want to go abroad for jobs or studies?
What do you think of the Chinese students?
Do you want to be the roommate of a Chinese cadet?
In the surveys of both 2011 and 2013, a great majority of MMA cadets believed that the China program would have a positive impact on MMA, and none had negative opinions about Chinese students. With the development of the exchange program, there is a slight increase in positivity for all questions. Both Tables 2 and 3 clearly state that many MMA cadets have not gone far from where they were born and raised and were still uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. Most MMA cadets would prefer not to share a room with a visiting Chinese student. When being asked the reason, several MMA students said that they would like to have a roommate who would be closer to themselves, with similar personalities, backgrounds, and hobbies. As one student put it, “I want to room with one of my friends.”
It is also worth mentioning that over the course of 6 years, each group of Chinese exchange students brought qualifications of diligence, a strong work ethic, and determination to succeed, when they were selected and sent to the MMA campus. Though the Chinese students would experience culture shock and language barriers, they made extraordinary efforts to blend in and excel in the classroom. One MMA professor of Marine Engineering said: “It is a pleasure to have the Chinese students in my class. They work so hard and get the best grades.” With the on-going exchange program, MMA cadets have become more culturally aware and keen on international affairs.
3 Positive Experience in China and Job Market Success for MMA Female Cadets
3.1 Positive Experience at SMU of China
Each year, the participating cadets from the academy gained very positive experiences during their stay in China. They believed the program helped them in the following three areas: developing good relations with Chinese people by experiencing the country first hand, putting them in more advantageous positions in different cultures and among different people, and meeting cadets of the same major from other countries. One student wrote in his report of the exchange program: “It is a great opportunity to meet people from other countries in similar fields of study.” Another cadet said that “It allows exchange of cultures and offers a new unique experience. It also helps educate everyone in the school about the Chinese culture, not just those who get to go.”