Alumni Spotlight - Jie Chen

Jie Chen (MA International Management & Policy, 2001) sailed nearly 5,000 miles from Cape Town to Western Australia when she took part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Jie, an amateur sailor works for Allianz Global Assistance, spent 26 days at sea on the Qingdao, a 70-foot ocean racing yacht. Jie talks to Old JoE  about her experiences.

When and how did you become interested in sailing?

It was by chance my friend took me to join in the sailing course during the Dragon Boat Festival in 2013. Sailing is a very charming sport, which needs not only muscle skills to handle the boat, but also mental skills to learn more about wind, sail, sea, waves, weather, tactics of racing and team work. Even though I kept capsizing at the beginning, I fell in love with the sport. 

What inspired you to take part in the race?

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the only cross-ocean race in the world open for non- professionals. “Race for people like you” is the slogan of the Clipper Race, which fascinated me. To sail across the ocean was a wish of mine, so even though I had only been learning for two years, I enrolled for the national selection. Luckily, after an initial online application, and then three days of tests including swimming, running and sailing against 80 other applicants from all over China I became one of the Qingdao Ambassador Crew and joined in training in Portsmouth from April to May 2015. I then took part in Leg 3, sailing from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, West Australia for 24 days covering, 4,845 nautical miles from October to November 2015. Our Qingdao Team won third place among 12 teams.

What was the toughest challenge of the race?

Actually I feel the toughest challenge is the mental one. Clipper has a good training system to prepare you gradually sea life. After the training, I felt more ready for this once in a life time opportunity. However, shortly after the race started in August 2015 an experienced member of crew in another team had a fatal accident. It was the first death in Clipper racing history in the past 20 years and it really shocked me. I thought about dropping out, but I just told myself to hang on and enjoy it.

The highest 85 knots wind, 10-20 metre high waves, sun rise, sun set, Southern Cross shining in the evenings, albatross flying over our boat and 24 days without shower and hair washing - all these became good memories of the race, tough yet beautiful.

What have you learned having taken part?

I am grateful for what this experience has taught me: to be more tolerant, more proactive and more appreciative for everything I have in life. I believe it has made me a better person. 

Why did you decide to study at Birmingham?

Birmingham is an excellent university. I visited the university in 1999 before I decided to apply and loved the Barber Institute, The Vale, the piano and drawing room in the halls of residence, redbrick buildings in the lovely campus and even the University station! Most importantly, I was offered a part-time job in the International Office to partly sponsor my study. I was the first Chinese student working in the International Office.

What are your memories of your time at the University?

I have great memories of Birmingham. I loved the Friday Lunchtime Concerts at the Barber which helped me deal with homesickness; I loved the cherry blossom on Edgbaston Road, roses in the Winterbourne Botanical Gardens, paintings in the Barber Institute of Fine Art, the smell of chocolate on the Business School lawn from the Cadbury factory nearby and singing Christmas songs with the University Choir in the Great Hall.

I am also grateful for the free one-to-one language tuition I received. During the Race, many members of my crew were impressed with my English.

Can you please outline your career since graduating?

I worked in an education company for British bridging courses in China for masters and undergraduate programmes after getting back to China in 2001. Then in 2005 I joined Save the Children (UK) as Project Manager for Yunnan Minority Basic Education Project for one year. After that, I entered the automotive world and worked in BMW China in Beijing until I began the race in 2015. I won BMW Group Award for Social Engagement of our Associates 2014 in Munich for my charity work to help farmers in Sichuan Pingwu mountain areas develop organic walnuts business to improve their living, children’s education and local environmental protection. From June 2015, I joined Allianz Assistance as a Senior Key Account Manager.

During her time aboard the Qingdao, Jie published some of her diary entries which can be found online.