I recently returned from a river cruise down the Rhône River in France. Most of the cruise-ship workers hailed from eastern and central Europe--Bulgaria, Romania, the Balkan states, etc.
I had many opportunities to watch the crew members at work, and I was impressed by their efficiency, courtesy, and professional demeanor. The ones I talked with spoke English well, and I concluded that most had the skills to work in professional jobs instead of waiting tables and cleaning passenger cabins on a cruise ship.
Why, I asked myself, were so many crew members from eastern Europe? And why were they stuck in such menial jobs? After all, working on a cruise ship might be described as living in a floating purgatory--long hours, low pay, and cramped living conditions.
The answers are obvious, of course. Most cruise-ship workers have limited economic opportunities. Few have college degrees, community ties, or family connections that could help them get better jobs. Their primary qualifications are their language skills and willingness to work under challenging conditions.
If you are an American college student squandering your youth in a liberal arts program at a mediocre college, you should think about these European cruise ship workers.
What skills will you bring to the workplace after you obtain your bachelor's diploma? Will you have learned how to work under stress, meet deadlines, and communicate well? Will that degree in medieval literature help you get a professional job that pays well enough to buy a home, raise a family, and save for retirement?
If not, your career prospects will be like many hardworking eastern Europeans--not very good. In fact, you may be worse off than the young Romanians and Bulgarians busing tables on cruise ships.
At least the eastern Europeans have a strong work ethic and an ability to work cheerfully for long hours. You may not have picked up those skills at the frat house, the student rec center, or the bullshit sessions that masquerade as academic courses in the liberal arts.
And the eastern Europeans will have one more advantage if you compete with them for low-skill jobs. They won't be burdened by student loans.
|Life as a cruise ship worker.