Olympic sailor wows students with stories of Asia

Olympic sailor Sam Meech Zoomed in on classrooms around the country recently to share his stories about traveling and competing in Asia, including taking part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Kids from Tauranga Intermediate sitting on the floor watching Sam on screen

Students at Tauranga Intermediate watching Sam's presentation

The online workshops were a way to inspire children to think about Asia and hopefully spark an interest in them to learn more about the region, it’s languages and cultures.

When Sam was five, his family set off on a sailing adventure on their yacht Tradition that would see them exploring the world for the best part of the next decade.

Sharing photos from his time on the boat and his experiences as an Olympic sailor, Sam captivated his young audiences with stories from his life.

The first place in Asia the family visited on Tradition was the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, which are also known as the Spice Islands. Sam told the students of how sailors can smell the spices of the Spice Islands before they can see the islands over the horizon. To make the olfactory connection in the classroom, during the classroom workshops teachers provided nutmeg and cinnamon for students to smell while Sam spoke.

Sam's family's boat Tradition

The Meech family's yacht Tradition

Wherever the family went on the Tradition they took a football with them, which they found was a great way to have fun and connect with local children. It taught Sam from an early age the impact sport can have as a way of bridging cultural gaps and connecting with people from different cultures, age groups and languages.

Sam, who competed in the Laser Class at the Tokyo Olympics, says he gained a lot through being exposed to different cultures at a young age travelling with his family and subsequently as an athlete and wanted to share his experiences with the next generation.

Sam in his yacht with Mount Fuji in the background

Sam competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

“New Zealand is becoming increasingly multicultural and having an appreciation for other people and cultures is super important. Hopefully this was an opportunity for the kids to learn about Asia and inspire them to travel there!”

The workshops were offered to members of the Foundation’s Champion’s programme – a professional network of educators developing their knowledge, understanding and awareness of Asia and acting as amplifiers to ensure Asia is valued in New Zealand schools.

Foundation Champion Natalie Stone from Raumati School says with the end of the year approaching, it is always good to get a new face in the classroom to keep the kids focussed and curious.

“Anyone new, young and successful gets them tuned in and listening! Personal stories also stay with them as that is what our brains like. I also believe that when they meet (albeit via Zoom) someone successful, it makes it more tangible for them to achieve themselves.”

She says her Year 7 and 8 students were enthralled by Sam’s stories.

“He inspired them to dream big and they commented afterward about how ‘super cool’ it was to meet an Olympic athlete!"

Students watching Sam on screen

Sean O'Connor: "Sam could paint a picture from his own life that was relatable and real. His enthusiasm in sharing his experiences was contagious."

The Foundation’s education director Sean O’Connor says having an Olympic athlete sharing his experiences of Asia helps capture the attention of students.

“It’s much more impactful for students to hear about someone’s experiences first hand – Sam could paint a picture from his own life that was relatable and real. His enthusiasm in sharing his experiences was contagious.

“Our research and anecdotal evidence have shown that being introduced to other counties and cultures at a young age can be the catalyst for learning that lasts a lifetime.

"Presentations like Sam's are a great way for teachers to start conversations about Asia.”