This summer semester, 30 students from the FH once again had the opportunity to apply for the interdisciplinary elective module “Studying under sails”. I am happy to have been part of it and to share some personal insights I gained, including talking about new experiences and expanding own horizons with two other participants, Kira and Paul.

What is “Studying under sails”?

The module focuses on current social issues, such as sustainable mobility or climate protection. This year the title of the project was “maritime systems and climate change”. In the six-week project phase students work in groups on various core topics that are derived from the overarching main topic, so that they inform each other, but also engage in an exciting exchange. The last phase of the project takes place for one week on the traditional sailing ship “Thor Heyerdahl“. This summer semester the sail started on May 5th and ended on May 11th in Kiel. Good to know: After the project students can get 5 ECTS.

Kira makes the the sails ready for the harbour (“hafenfein")
Kira is making the sails ready for the harbour (“hafenfein”) (Photo: Celina Lein)

When asked why she applied to the project, Kira (23), currently doing her bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy, answered: “I stumbled across the project through reports from last year’s participants. I was hooked pretty quickly.”

Before sailing

It is important to know that most of the work is being assigned before the sailing trip. This makes it possible to meet up with some other participants. The fact that there are students from different areas – social work, agriculture, engineering, media and economic faculties – broadens the experience and shows different points of view on one topic. While talking with the others, it became clear that everyone is really excited about this trip. Some have already sailed before. Others were completely new and scared of, for example, seasickness.

For Paul (25), studying informatics in his Bachelor, this kind of work was completely new for him before he started the project. “I never had to do scientific research in my studies before and therefore the core topic ‘climate protection law’ was challenging. It was kind of complicated in the first place, but thanks to my great topic group I learned how to do it and learned much about climate laws and their difficult enforcement.”

“It is a really nice chance and experience. You have the opportunity to get to know new things and to get a bit out of your social context.“

Paul climbs up the rick
Paul is climbing up the rick (Photo: Celina Lein)

While sailing

Living on board is much more than a salty breeze, a blue sky and amazing sunsets. While enjoying nature, you need to follow a strict work routine. Kira was also impressed by this routine because it was completely different to her daily studying and working life. Day and night watch, cleaning the ship, working on the projects, cooking for 50 people, learning important terms of sailing and traditions were only a couple of our assignments.

Paul was surprised about how fast he adapted to the daily routine on the ship. Coffee helps a lot there. Teamwork is necessary to have control over the ship. Trust, solidarity and responsibility are key elements. The video below tries to give some impressions about the trip across the Baltic Sea.

Thor Heyerdahl impressions (Video: Celina Lein; Background music:

After sailing

When thinking about my personal highlight of this trip, more than one thing comes to my mind. The feeling of climbing at the front of the ship, with the sea under your feet and the blue sky and the sun above, is amazing. Another special moment of mine was while I was working with the sails and suddenly a porpoise appeared next to the Thor. And the feeling of steering the ship during the night watch made me proud. There were a lot of situations where I had to leave my comfort zone, but this also helped me to grow and make unforgettable memories. Kira, Paul and I can definitely recommend taking part in this project.

“I learned a lot of new things about climate change and the sailing journey taught me much about sailing and myself. This course is an adventure that I am glad to have experienced and I would do it again!”


Do you want to participate? Contact Prof. Dr. Harald Jacobsen or read further articles from last year here. For other FH projects – have a look at this FHEWS-article.