Casey Wai could never imagine that a study trip he undertook as a teenager would pave the way towards a fulfilling, life-long career.
With a burning desire to see the world, Mr Wai joined an EF Language Travel summer language trip to the US to study English after completing Form Five. He found the programme offer much more than simply immersion in language and cultural exchange.
"The programme completely changed my life, in the sense that it deepened my interest in language learning and, more importantly, it kick-started my career," he recalls.
Soon after he returned from his trip, he joined EF Education First as a part-time employee to handle administrative work and to share his own travel study experience with other students. He enjoyed the working environment so much that he went on to become a project co-ordinator in 2001 and was initially responsible for leading a group of Hong Kong students to study English in Singapore.
"Despite the tremendous responsibility of being a student guide, I enjoyed the work as it exposed me to interaction with people from varied cultures and all walks of life," he says. "I decided to stay with the company and worked my way up."
Mr Wai draws on his experience as a student tour guide, and is well qualified to assure parents and teachers that language travel can offer more than just a language learning experience. "It also develops soft skills and cultural sensitivity," he stresses. "These can be indispensable in the future workplace."
"I have travelled at least 60 times in the past three years to different parts of China, Europe and the US"
EF Language Travel is a unit of the Swedish educational organisation EF Education First, which runs a wide range of educational language services ¡X from language schools and online language training to language tours and corporate training.
Currently a programme manager for EF Language Travel, Mr Wai runs programmes that offer Hong Kong students the opportunity to travel abroad to improve their language skills while at the same time learning about the culture of their host country by staying with a local family.
Aside from ensuring that the travel study programme runs smoothly, Mr Wai is also responsible for business development and team coaching.
Before moving into his current position, Mr Wai spent three years as an assistant project manager, overseeing all EF Education First China's language study programmes in major mainland cities.
He has gained much job satisfaction and enjoyment from his different roles at EF. "This job has given me immense opportunity and has provided so many eye-opening cultural experiences," he notes. "I have travelled at least 60 times in the past three years to different parts of China, Europe and the US."
Mr Wai's current role entails strategic tasks that include sales and marketing and business development. In addition to maintaining close contact with students and their parents, he also liaises with schools, host families, consulates and teachers.
"Our job is to understand the goals and concerns of parents and students, and to liaise with the relevant parties to tailor programmes that best fit their needs," he explains. "For instance, we conduct sharing sessions and invite educational psychologists to address parents on how to enhance students' learning processes. We aim to make language travel the beginning of a life-long journey."
The language travel industry is growing rapidly worldwide, and especially in mainland China. Mr Wai anticipates a 50 per cent growth in students from the mainland studying English abroad. At the same time, he expects a stable industry growth in Hong Kong. The company plans to expand programme activities and content in Hong Kong in its efforts to introduce more students from different backgrounds to the benefits of language study.
"Our language travel programmes have been available for quite some time in Hong Kong and they have proved effective and fruitful," he says.
The availability of host family accommodation and qualified ESL teachers to conduct English language courses differentiates EF from other language travel programmes in the market, stresses Mr Wai, adding that he will continue to find creative ways to provide beneficial and unique travel experiences.
He remarks that fresh graduates with overseas study experience stand a better chance of getting a job as employers favour people with an international exposure. He has found that people with good interpersonal and positive thinking skills tend to thrive and develop fast in the company. As for people looking to join Mr Wai's team, he says the basic prerequisite is a passionate belief in the benefit of language travel.