Sailing off in discovery of a different world


Eleven young Greek men and women will set sail to foreign shores in January, on a journey that previous participants in the experience say will change their lives. The 11 will be representing Greece on the Ship for World Youth, the biggest youth exchange program in the world. The initiative has been organized by the government of Japan since 1988 and is being carried out in Greece in cooperation with the General Secretariat for Youth and Lifelong Learning.

A total of 242 young people from 11 countries will board the Nippon Maru cruise ship on January 15 and spend 50 days sailing across the Pacific, from Japan to Palau and from there to Australia and the Solomon Islands. The aim is to acquaint them with different cultures, and to help them forge communication and leadership skills and team spirit.

“None of us can describe the program in words,” the president of the Greek representation on the Ship for World Youth, 36-year-old Panayiotis Mamouzakis, tells Kathimerini.

He experienced the program first-hand as part of the last Greek delegation to join, back in 2010.

Countries participate on the invitation of the Japanese government and Greece had a steady presence every four years from 1989 to 2010. The 2019 mission will be its 31st participation and also marks the 120th anniversary of Greek-Japanese Friendship.

Mamouzakis had already had experience of a students exchange program thanks to Erasmus, but says that the cruise is something entirely different. “You are among people from all over the planet in an environment where you have everything: food and board, and a structured program with tons of educational opportunities. It’s a bit like being on a spaceship, beyond Earth, with people from all over, in an ideal community where you exchange views, without prejudice, without money playing a role,” he says.

The Ship for World Youth includes dozens of on-board activities from discussions and presentations by participants on their countries – the history, culture and way of life – to sports and entertainment. The ship will also make stops to allow participants to visit institutions and meet young people in different communities, among other onshore activities.

“We visited universities in India, went to Dubai, where the crown prince welcomed us and we visited the headquarters of Emirates airline, we saw the Sony offices in Japan and so much more,” remembers Mamouzakis. “I had a hard time getting back to reality when I returned to Greece. I realized that all at once I had acquired a family all over the planet.”

The lingering effects of his experience compelled him to start the Ship for World Youth Greece Alumni Association. “You want to do anything you can to increase the impact of that experience,” he says, explaining that in cooperation with friends made on the trip, from Peru to Australia and from Kenya to Turkey, they organize campaigns and actions such as blood donation drives.

The list for the 11 participants of next year’s journey has not yet been drawn up and all Greek citizens born between April 2, 1987 and April 1, 2000 can apply here (the deadline is July 31).

Participants will be selected by the Japanese Embassy in Athens, the General Secretariat and the Alumni Association. As well as Greece, the ship will have missions from Australia, Vanuatu, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Ecuador, the Solomon Islands, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey and Chile.