Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am Natasha Wood, I grew up in Zimbabwe and did the Cambridge syllabus for Highschool. Then, before I got into Stenden, during my school holidays, I worked at an Italian restaurant called Aroma Café in Harare and then, before going to University I also worked at Bayete Guest Lodge in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) which is basically where my admiration for the industry sparked. So, I applied to Stenden in 2016 and now I’ve recently graduated with a BCom Hospitality Management Cum Laude. Now I am working as a ground operations and liaison officer for Crescents and Crosses Ltd in the aviation industry!
What brought you to the hospitality industry?
So, what got me into Hospitality was working at Aroma Café and Bayeti Lodge, that’s where my interest grew for the industry. I love helping people and understanding the different cultures and another reason is, that hospitality is so broad and its always changing so it allows for new knowledge to be gained to keep up with the new trends and increasing travelling population. It’s also one of the fastest-growing industries with ever-present challenges, which I love! Lastly, the networking aspect, which is really fundamental in our day and age, it’s the key – that’s how you get to know people and discover new opportunities.
You were one of the few students to be accepted onto the “My World Cruise Line”, tell us about your experience and how your view towards the industry has changed?
Yes, I was the only student from Stenden South Africa to be able to do my internship on the World Residence at Sea along with another student from the NHL Stenden campus in The Netherlands. This amazing experience over the 3 months that we were aboard took me to 9 different countries, mainly based in Asia and as a rotational internship, I had the opportunity to meet and learn about so many new cultures from the workforce that I become a part of. For instance, working in the room’s division of the hotel department on the ship, in the concierge team, each and every one of us was from a different nationality.
Looking at the industry itself, working on a cruise ship is a fast-paced job that demands a lot from you, but it is extremely rewarding once you get to see that the guests and residents are enjoying where they are. My internship was such a rewarding experience that I had actually applied to Crystal Cruises while still onboard the world and I actually have a position there. Now I will just have to wait until the industry is ready to resume and then yes, I will be going back to the cruise industry for a while.
What was the best/most valuable lesson you learnt while working abroad?
The most valuable lesson that I learned being abroad working on cruise ships is critical thinking. We were constantly required to adapt to changes that couldn’t have been predicted. For example, in Japan, which is the initial Port that I had begun my internship at, we were threatened by a typhoon in the coming days. Therefore, we had to leave a day earlier than expected. This had actually happened in a few ports due to different circumstances. In the Philippines, weather conditions forced us to quickly adapt our travel plans which meant we had to inform everybody on the vessel through letters and emails. This caused another challenge in which everyone residing on the ship are not actually guests but instead, are owners of their own homes on the ship. Therefore, everyone had their preferences for many scenarios such as how to be addressed.
Ultimately, the most valuable lesson I learned from my time aboard the World is my ability to apply critical thinking to my job and how to adapt to changes quickly.
At Stenden, our studies were focused on a career in hotels and our practical component was based in our student hotel. How would you compare your experiences with hotels to that of the cruise industry?
Well, in the cruise industry your fellow workmates become family because you are on board and there is nowhere else to go except when you're on land in which case you then have some freedom to go and do things. Although even then you generally aren’t alone either. Whereas, when working in a hotel, you have the opportunity to go home after your shift. Also, working on the cruises requires weekly safety drills that you have to do, in which the whole ship basically comes to a standstill except for a select few that are excused. In my experience with hotels, this isn’t as commonly performed. Additionally, before being allowed onto the ship, we had to do an STCW course which is a requirement to work onboard. Then they test your knowledge and require you to do two additional tests in the 3 months to recap your knowledge in case something was to happen while you're at sea.
The cruise ships also obviously do their working shifts differently to a hotel. We worked seven days a week with an average of nine and 1/2 hours a day. Some days I worked a straight shift which meant I work the full nine and a half hours and then other days I would do a split shift where I work in the morning and then again in the afternoon into the evening. When looking at the two industries, many aspects of them are quite similar, especially in the operational aspect, for instance, the way we interacted with guests and the way everything was portrayed in terms of the food and beverage departments. Except for the housekeeping department, the cruise industry had several strict regulations relating to the cleaning and sanitation that needed to be done on the ship, but it is obviously very necessary because you all are living in a confined space.
Yeah, all in all, I really do enjoy both industries and I'll definitely be interested just to go back to spend a few a more years on the ships.