It’s been a little over a week since I’ve moved onto the cruise ship to continue my medical education studies and it’s been quite the interesting adventure so far. I’ll admit it was a hot mess when we got onto this boat from living situation, logistics, and even the administration. It was so frustrating to realize that we would be living in these conditions. However, Ross has done their best and are truly trying their hardest to meet our requests and making this situation much better for learning. It’s significantly improved in only 2 weeks. The staff has been working non-stop to make sure WiFi is better, installing it in more locations, installing power strips, and even having someone at the front desk to answer all our bagazillion questions. They too had to deal with this logistical mess. So shout out to IT and Student Services!
The boat looks a lot nicer on the outside and in photos than it does in real life. It’s actually really small and our boat looks so sad compared to those nice big Carnival cruises! Our rooms are so tiny! Some people got a window room and those rooms are a little bigger. The bathrooms are like the size of what’s in airplanes. I’m a small individual and even I had difficulty showering in that tiny shower. Shaving is a whole other story too (the trick FYI is to turn off the water and then stand in the middle and hold onto the metal bar so you don’t fall). I was lucky in that I only had 2 other roommates so it was a total of 3 in our room. You’ll see from the photos how small our room is! A lot of people had 4 to a room and there are so many big/tall dudes that I don’t know how they live in those small spaces. We also were told that we would each get a closet but that wasn’t true. We were quite sad about that. But I’m very impressed at how my roomies and I were able to still fit everything and it looks neat still (which I’m so happy about because I’m an organized and clean freak – basically OCD level).
We didn’t have WiFi when we first got here so that was also annoying. The study spaces are just auditoriums and our lecture halls look like movie theaters. IT eventually bought us all lap desks so we use that now. Students also started buying tables and chairs to study and it’s probably the best investment I’ve made here so far! It’s hilarious watching everyone carry their portable tables. We can now literally study anywhere. WiFi has significantly improved and Ross provided us all with island phones with 15GB of cellular data.
What’s nice is that we get fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cruise ship we’re on is Italian so they literally have bread EVERY meal. Breakfast is the same and it always consists of orange or pineapple juice, cereal, oatmeal (and there’s only warm milk…), scrambled eggs (they make it runny scrambled eggs though which might be a St. Kitts thing), boiled eggs (I think people complained about the runny scrambled eggs so they switched to hard boiled), sausage, bacon, and sometimes fruit. Lunch and dinner always has pasta. I probably don’t want to eat pasta at all after this. The food wasn’t very appetizing but with all our complaints, the kitchen is slowly improving. There wasn’t even much balance in our meals like vegetables and fruits but they slowly added that too. Their meals also weren’t great for vegetarians or vegans but they are offering more variety and accommodations for dietary restrictions. It took some adjusting to get used to eating on a schedule since our meal times are only offered at certain times during the day. I was so used to eating on my own time.
This whole living situation feels like I’m in college but worse. The school at first didn’t want people living off campus but then they eventually allowed people to. Probably because they realized how terrible it was to live in these conditions.
A lot of people actually left the boat shortly after they arrived. Our school worked out with the medical board of education in Dominica and the Department of Education where we had a week after the first day of class to decide if we wanted to continue or return the next semester. We would get an approved absence on our transcript. At first it was going to be a withdraw but with all the complaints our school got, they were able to get us an approved absence. People just couldn’t handle the living situation but most the people left because they realized they wouldn’t do well academically in these conditions. The internet was too slow to study and the study spaces weren’t great. I’m pretty positive that half of the third semester class left (especially in the accelerated class). Third semester is the toughest (after first) here at Ross. But since Maria messed up our timeline, our curriculum was condensed and all of us had an exam one week after arriving on the boat. Third semester has two exams in a span of two days. Those two exams are the hardest for third semester as well. Third also has some weekend classes and they have a lot of clinical skills classes so it’s just a tough curriculum in general. I’m lucky and second semester is supposed to be one of the easier semesters and our curriculum wasn’t that condensed. We all have a final clinical exam either Christmas Eve, Christmas, or the day after Christmas. Our finals are either on NY or after. So we’re all going to be spending the holidays on this boat but also studying and stressing.
By today all of us have taken our first exam (except third semester which is next week). It’s actually pretty funny because we all walk into an auditorium with our lap desks and own personal devices. We were in open water during our exam and it sucked because you could feel the boat moving but luckily I don’t get seasick. Surprisingly, the internet was fine and it was doable to take an exam like that.
Since so many people left, the boat is now much better in terms of living spaces (people’s roommates decreased – I now only have one other) and there’s more study spaces. Sometimes I laugh at how ridiculous this all is. Like people are studying everywhere and anywhere, he middle of the hallway or on the stairs, just sitting on the ground. This is all ridiculous but yet here we are doing it. It’s a struggle but we just have to suck it up and do it. My best friend said to think of it as I’m going to boarding school or Hogwarts because it’s such a confined space, we see the same people all the time, and this is also where we live. She also said this is like Hunger Games. During the time everyone was leaving, it would have been hilarious if the intercom went off to play the gunshot and then people’s faces who left showed up. It’s totally understandable for those who left though.
We are docked at an active port so cruise ships are constantly coming in and out so sometimes we have to go to the open water and dock at another open cargo dock. During that time we’re not really allowed off the boat and the WiFi and cellular data sucks but IT is also working on improving that aspect for us. But people need to board the ship by 5:30am if it’s leaving the dock that day. It’s crazy and even professors have to get onto the boat then.
The second day I was on the boat, my friends and I were actually stranded outside while the boat was in the water for 12 hours. Looking back on it, it was a pretty crazy situation and hilarious even though it was so frustrating at the time. We were told we could leave the boat before 8am and then it would come back by 12pm because it had to drop off supplies for Puerto Rico at a neighboring dock. However, when we came back around 11am the boat was still docked so we assumed it came back from it’s trip. The boat apparently never left the dock and was leaving at that time and would not let my friends and I on the boat. We would have to wait until around 5pm to get back on. We of course were pissed because we were not told this and we wanted to study! However, we were the lucky ones. Everyone on the boat ended up being stranded out in the middle of the ocean because the engine stopped working and the electricity was out. The AC wasn’t working so everyone was sweating and then people got hungry because the kitchen couldn’t cook food. The boat ended up having to be pulled by a tug boat so it didn’t come back to the dock until 7pm. Also, all the student services staff was on land so the students on the boat didn’t have any Ross administration there with them.
Overall, I had to find humor in this whole situation because that is what keeps me sane. I know this will make one hell of a residency interview. It also tests my limits. Medical school is already tough in itself and to do it in these conditions along with an accelerated curriculum is crazy. I also will admit I had a breakdown probably mid-week of arriving because I was so stressed and not adapting as fast as I’d like (this is probably the first time in my life I struggled so much to adapt). But I think I’m slowly adjusting as is everyone else and all we can do is laugh at this and study (because what else is there to do on this boat…).
One of my favorite Ted Talks is about how success is based on grit. I think this applies to all of us living on the boat and continuing our medical education on Floating University. Here’s to all of us surviving and kicking ass this semester!
Featured Photo Credit: St. Kitts-Nevis Times