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Cycling to knowledge

Cycling to knowledge

Study programme along the Silk Road

Cycling for about 11,000 kilometres with 40 other students, visiting 8 universities, travelling through  7 countries – from Istanbul to Beijing along the Silk Road – in 5.5 months. This is The Study Road, a project invented by UM graduate Joya van Hout which should kick off in March 2013.

The initial idea for The Study Road popped up in 2009, when Joya van Hout (28) was thinking about her future career. What to do after finishing her master’s in Law and Languages Studies in Maastricht? A year before, she had joined Tour d’Afrique and cycled from Cairo to Capetown.  “We were 55 people from all over the world, not only students. I travelled about 12,000 kilometres to learn more about the different countries of Africa, to learn about their cultures and see the differences. It was a great experience. I met a lot of people, and also saw the good and bad influences of Western aid. Sometimes Western projects take the initiative out of the hands of the locals.”

Why not organise something like the Tour d‘Afrique? A cycling/learning trip for students, to prepare future leaders for our continuously changing world? Cycling is fun and a unique way to learn: cycling to knowledge, so to speak. Van Hout carried on studying, got a job at a bank, and now works as an attorney of law at Pontius Advocaten in Amsterdam. “The idea was still in my head, but I only started to take it seriously when other people said it was a great plan.”

Van Hout chose for the Silk Road, the legendary trade route from Istanbul to China, to renew the connection between East and West; to step into the footsteps of Marco Polo. The study programme will start in Istanbul with a two- or three-week course in Big History (a comprehensive overview of all of history, with a multidisciplinary approach). Universities in Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China will provide lectures on International Relations as seen from the perspective of their own countries. The students will finish their trip in Beijing with the two-week course Corporate Social Responsibility. Isn’t the route dangerous? “We’re not sure about Iran. If the Dutch government says we’d better not, we’ll travel through Azerbaijan instead. But Iran has our absolute priority.”

Already 55 students from all over the world have expressed being interested in joining the project. None have paid yet. “We have room for 40 students. We’re looking for students who can think out of the box, from various disciplines, different cultural backgrounds, with perseverance. They won’t get any study credits, but we will issue certificates with detailed information about the lectures, the exam results and group assignments.”

This month Van Hout is talking with travel agencies and looking for sponsors. “Finding organisations who want to sponsor us is not easy in times of economic crisis.  We’re not aiming to make any profit, we’re a foundation, but we want to keep the price as low as possible for the students.” She thinks each student will have to pay between 5000 and 8000 euros. “For food and drinks, lectures, accommodation, luggage transport and bicycle repair. The flights to Istanbul and from Beijing and visas are not included.”




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