Meet Sze Yi Toh, who is currently studying at Wavelink Maritime Institute in Singapore, in the hopes of earning a Certificate in Nautical Studies. As part of the program, Sze Yi recently completed 13 months of training on board various merchant ships, visiting countries all over the world. Her list of ports include those in China, Korea, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Vanautu. Deck Cadet Sze Yi worked closely with the officers on board these ships to learn how to navigate the ship, oversee cargo coming on and off the vessel, and maintain the ship’s safety systems, such as fire fighting equipment and lifeboats.
Women Offshore was fortunate to connect with Sze Yi, after she returned from her cadet shipping, to find out more about her budding career in the maritime industry. Here’s what Sze Yi shared with us:
Sze Yi, please start out by sharing with us what inspired you to work on the water.
“I used to go on cruises with my grandpa, starting at six years old. I still remember when I was 12 years old, I asked my dad about how big the ocean was and he replied, “The Ocean connects to every part of the world.” As an avid cruiser, I saw some of what went on behind the scenes of the types of glamorous luxury treatment those cruise line passengers were afforded. I was able to have spoken with the crew on board and I noticed how much they missed their family – it wasn’t always all about how great we [the passengers] thought the job was. Through them, I saw a part of how much it took to come out to sea to earn a living, and how much one has to miss whenever on board the ship. As I grew up, I subsequently realized I liked being at sea and I enjoyed the calm feeling the sound of the waves gave me. I just spent 13 months at sea as a cadet and I love to be on deck – having a close contact with the ocean is the greatest experience.”
Please share a memorable experience you’ve had at sea.
“I have a lot of memorable experiences I have gained, but the most memorable concerns a Chief Officer whom I respect the most. When he first signed on, he looked very fierce to me. Along the way, he gave me important jobs which made me feel like he could trust me. I liked the way he treated me because he treated me like a man, in the sense that there wasn’t any male chauvinism while working with him at all, and it made me feel comfortable enough to perform my duties without that distraction. His attitude towards work and professionalism are the main reasons why I really respect him as I do. In my experiences, male chauvinism still exists in today’s world – especially on the ship. Whenever they see me as a lady, they seem to not trust me, only giving me paperwork to do. Their opinions are openly voiced to me on a regular basis with comments such as, “As a lady you should stay at home and be a housewife.” Anyway, my best memory was that I sailed with this Chief Officer who knew me more than I knew myself. I never thought that I would be so independent until he made me step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I would jump at the chance of sailing with him again, given half the chance.”
What motivates you to continue working on the water if it’s a long-term career for you?
“The thing which motivates me to work on water is working towards the position of Chief Officer. The majority of the people I know encourage me to aim to become Captain one day. Personally, I picture myself as a Chief Officer; managing the deck crew and being the one who oversees the deck maintenance. I would want the crew to say, “She is a bloody darn good Chief!” I would try my very best to strive to become the Chief Officer. I want the challenge. I want to feel the satisfaction of succeeding with the support of my crew behind me.”
What do you think can be done in your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?
“I believe more and more women are starting to take up this challenge. I don’t believe that we should entice women into the industry, specifically, but rather that we should encourage women to be bold and be their own beautiful, strong and independent selves.”
Sze Yi, you inspire us here at Women Offshore. We enjoyed the story you shared about your Chief Officer, mentoring your path to become a ship’s officer. We look forward to following your career and one day calling you, “Chief Officer Sze Yi!”
The Women Offshore Foundation is an online organization and resource center for a diverse workforce on the water. Its mission is to propel women into meaningful careers through access to a worldwide community and professional development resources, while raising awareness amongst industry leaders and decision makers about issues affecting women on the water. Contact Women Offshore today: firstname.lastname@example.org.