Sea-ing the world: Perspectives from abroad

Kiera McGee, Senior Writer

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Arriving in Greece: Cabin Stewards & Gypsy Children

As I write this article, I’m lying by the pool on Deck 9, slathered in sunscreen and waiting for the mango-banana smoothie I just ordered from the bar. I have class in half an hour, but it’s a mere 20 second walk to the Kino Cinema, the ship’s movie theater and my classroom; I want to catch a few more rays, so I’ll just go to my oceanography class in my bikini and coverup dress instead of changing.

At this point, you may have a few questions about my life. For starters, yes, I’m actually receiving college credit for this, and no, I’m not the star of a “Suite Life on Deck” reboot. I’m studying abroad with Semester at Sea, a program currently sponsored by Colorado State University. I live and attend class on a cruise ship aptly named the MV World Odyssey as I journey across the world with 600 other students hailing from dozens of universities. When we’re in port, we’re allowed to travel freely within the country and no classes are held. It really has been as amazing as it sounds.

Of course, such luxury comes at a price. The program costs around $30,000, depending on which cabin you live in and what scholarships you receive. I am both grateful and lucky enough to be on full scholarship, which serves to make this experience that much more surreal. As we approached Greece, the irony of the country’s economic downfall and our floating opulence was not lost on any of us. We have been lectured on Greece’s widespread financial hardships, steep unemployment rate, and influx of migrants from war-torn nations. Throughout the week leading up to our arrival in Athens, we all became keenly aware and sympathetic of the state’s plight.

Each night before we dock in a country, the faculty and staff hold a mandatory logistical pre-port lecture in which the entire student body is educated on its culture, social norms, and current events. A strong emphasis is also placed on safety, as we are provided with a plethora of tips on how to remain out of harm’s way. During Greece’s pre-port, we were warned about the superfluity of pickpockets, but we were also made aware of “gypsy children,” little ones who beg for money on the street or at restaurants; many of them are migrants from Syria and other politically unstable nations in the Middle East.

On my first day in Athens, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe with a few friends when a young boy around five or six years old approached our table. He was clutching a bouquet of roses in one hand and attempting to give one to each of us with the other, hoping to receive a few coins in exchange. My heart immediately broke and I accepted a rose, reaching for my purse as I did so. My friends all turned to me with incredulous looks on their faces.

“Don’t you know he’s a gypsy kid, Kiera? He just wants your money. He’s probably not even homeless, look at his clothes, they’re too nice,” one of them said. Now it was my turn to look back at her with astonishment. I was fully aware of who the child was and what his intentions were—I just also knew that he needed the euro more than I did. Regardless of whether he was homeless, or whether his parents were coaching him from a few hundred meters away, it is my personal belief that no child should ever be put in the situation of having to beg strangers for money. I gave a few coins to every “gypsy kid” I encountered in Greece and even bought a popsicle for a particularly sad-eyed girl sitting on the ground playing the accordion in Santorini.

Perhaps I was scammed by a few children—or perhaps my measly euro was the last coin one child’s family needed to buy a bag of rice for dinner. In any case, I could never return to my cabin at night, snuggled between the fresh sheets on my bed that is perfectly made every other day by my steward, Julius, if I had looked into that five year-old’s eyes and told him no. The culture shock of being able to sit down for my fancy buffet breakfast on the ship and then disembarking and have to step around sleeping vagrants outside the port still has not worn off.

I am one of the luckiest people in the world right now. I have been given a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience that very few are able to partake in. I will be forever changed by the people and cultures that I embrace along this remarkable voyage. As I learn about others, I find that I learn just as much about myself, particularly in regards to my personal values. Earth is a big, beautiful planet and I intend on seeing it all. Participating in Semester at Sea’s Fall 2016 voyage has been the best decision of my life.

Thank you for the lessons, the memories, and the souvlaki, Greece. Next stop: Italy!

Any questions or comments? Please feel free to e-mail Kiera at kiera.mcgee.fa16@semesteratsea.org as she sails across the world!

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