I can never be thankful enough for all the travel opportunities that I have experienced. I am still bewildered at this point whenever I recount the places and people I have encountered in my years at sea. Looking back now, I have to say that serendipity has a sweet way of creeping up in your life although I also have to give a shout-out to the power of strong prayers. Heck, I prayed for my previous job in a mantric kind of way! The power of attraction is strong for someone who truly believes.
As an Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW, I worked onboard ships for a US cruise lines company. Ten years abroad was a great chapter in my life. I learned so many things not just in the professional aspect but life in general.
Coming to the US alone without prior experience of being out of the country did not really scare me when I applied for the job. The company needed youth camp staff members so I did not hesitate to apply. To be honest though I was lucky because I was totally inexperienced as compared to most of the applicants, I just prayed hard and did my research about the job. When I was hired, it was an ecstatic feeling I can never forget.
I remember my first month onboard. As a newly-hired sign-on my schedule comprised of gazillion trainings. Being a crew member, one has to know all ship policies and hotel procedures. Therefore, it was a big jumble of information in my head. Since the cruise industry focuses on hospitality, we had to be introduced to the North American culture. I had to adapt and let lose of the typical Filipino shyness. Eye contact when talking to people is a must and there are no translations to the usual courtesy words “po” and “opo” that I was accustomed to when answering or talking to a person older than me.
I got used to ship life pretty fast. It was not easy though especially when home sickness gets to you. The worst were the holidays when you terribly miss the people you love. So what’s the next best thing to home? Your ship family. And I was lucky that in my department, we were birds of the same feather so it was easy to bond with my co-workers. They were my family onboard.
One thing that I never got used to though was motion sickness. I avoided dramamine or any sea-sickness pill. I preferred taking ginger capsules coupled with wearing pressure bands on my wrist. People said eating green apples helps too but I really didn’t rely on it that much.
One of the greatest perks of my job was the traveling part. When we dock in ports, we were free to go out as well given that we were not working or assigned to any ship duties that would require us to stay onboard. Being the girl who cannot sit still, I abused this opportunity. I made sure that I was out to the beach, gone for a tour, or maybe just plainly walked the port’s city streets. But this came with a big respect to time. Before setting foot on land, I always made sure to check the ship’s back-onboard-time. Also, I had to make sure I was following the ship’s time and not what they follow in port. Otherwise, they will sail with or without me.
The Western Caribbean was where I spent most of my first contract in 2004. Our homeport was New Orleans, this was pre-Katrina and I saw it quite differently back then so I got a bit confused when I came back after 9 years. The ports of call were Montego Bay in Jamaica, Georgetown in Grand Cayman, and Cozumel in Mexico. I remember my delight when I first got to the beach in Jamaica. The song Kokomo was playing in my head while I enjoyed the feel of the sand at my feet in Sunset Beach. I thought to myself maybe I will also see the rest of the places mentioned in it, dared to hope too for the ones it didn’t include. Little did I know that I would see more places than I wished for.