27 year old Tess Lichkus graduated from The International Hotel School’s Durban campus in 2010, after spending three years studying her Diploma in Hospitality Management. Studying hospitality management seemed like a great idea to combine work and travel as a career.
Tess began her travels on board the Seabourn Sojourn cruise liner in November 2010, and spent the next year seeing the world. Here’s what she had to say about her journey from IHS student to hospitality graduate…
Why did you decide to study hospitality and what did you hope to do?
My family has always been interested in travelling. We were constantly encouraged to explore the world, and as a family, we took many road trips. From Durban down the east coast to Cape Town, and back up again – but changing course to go through the Western Cape and Kimberly.
I didn’t have an exact plan, but my heart was set on working aboard a cruise ship – it was the prospect of travelling to unknown and exciting ports around the world. And also gaining international experience and skills that would be very beneficial to bring back into South Africa.
What did you do once you were qualified?
I applied through GRI, Gourmet Recruitment Agency and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of working on the Seabourn Sojourn, a cruise liner that travelled the world. I was a stewardess and was blessed to be onboard when the vessel did their maiden World Cruise Voyage.
We travelled from Florida in the USA to: the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, the Panama Canal, and Kiel Canal. My second contract was the Baltic Cruise, from Helsinki in Finland, to St Petersburg in Russia, and Stockholm in Sweden. My third trip was South America – Uruguay, Chile, Ushuaia, Argentina, Cape Horn, Falklands Islands, and back to Miami, Florida.
What was it like, working on a ship?
From a stewardess point of view, you start from 8 in the morning, until 1pm, and again from 6 to 10pm, you are at your station, waiting patiently to receive the “Make up Suite” on your assigned section.
Your daily duties include housekeeping of the guests’ suites, going beyond expectations and delivering dietary requirements, to individual bottles of requested beverages. Service is of a very high importance, and making the guests’ experience on the Seabourn Sojourn ‘a wow’.
Your first experience of rough seas will be a challenge. I found out ways that worked for me that assisted with very rough seas and sea sickness. Every contract will contain days of swells and seriously bad weather. You do learn the longer you stay onboard though.
Cruise liner work is very tough; you either love it or hate it. There are no days off in your entire contract, and there is limited time to relax, but the social life and fellow crew members are your lifelines in completing your contract of four months. I was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome I received and I was very fortunate to have been connected to so many South Africans while onboard. I was offered a lot of help and training, and would highly recommend it to anybody.
Is it difficult to live and work with people from different countries and cultures?
I hadn’t expected the language barrier that I had with my ‘Big Sister’ who was training me, as she was from Hungary and her English was not as strong as mine. But my best friends are two Swedish ladies. I’m a very relaxed and open-minded individual so I had no difficulty interacting with other nationalities.
Did you enjoy travelling the world?
It was my first trip overseas by myself, and I’ve been blessed to be able to have had the chance to see and explore the world. At first it was bewildering and rather nerve racking, but I’m fortunate to have family around the world who are always there to guide me through it all.
Some of my favourite places are Bora Bora, Miami in Florida, and Melbourne and Sydney in Australia. Each cruise liner has its own itinerary, and unfortunately I was always restricted to a time limit, but I made the best of the opportunity. I’ve even been on tours that the guests take.
Working on a cruise ship was absolutely a worthwhile experience for me.
What are the highs and lows of working as a stewardess?
Working on a ship is tough in that you’re unable to simply run home after work and relax. The long hours are hard, and at the peak times of the holidays when family and friends are on vacation. Working the peak times to ensure efficient service in the rush is difficult. But you learn to depend on yourself and find that self-confidence from the intense training and expectations placed on you from the beginning.
The work experience of acquiring training in the level of skills that are required to be a successful Hotelier is great. I loved connecting with people from all corners of the earth, both guests and crew members. I became toughened and developed into a respectable human being. You learn so much about yourself and what you are made of. This is highly important in any job.
Did your studies prepare you for the hotel industry?
I think that the studies were able to prepare me for approximately 70% of the long hours, dedication, and tough environment that is the hotel industry. I felt that being a student, I wasn’t pushed hard enough and not quite exposed to the realities of the expectations of the industry. You need to be determined, hard working, committed, and passionate about delivering a high standard in service.
Students considering the hotel industry should volunteer to work at a hotel before they take the step to study hospitality. The perceptions of this industry will not equate to the realities – you have to listen to your heart.
What had you done since leaving Seabourn?
I’ve worked as a Junior Manager at 88 Degrees Café at Gateway Shopping Centre, done menu design, staff timetables, stock take, ordering and issuing of stock, design of tenant promotions for the café, and staff counseling and disciplinary actions.
My current job involves Front Office, Switchboard and Reception, Reservations and Guest relations, checking guests in and out, Housekeeping, hiring and supervising staff, coordinating stock take and ordering, cooking breakfast, lunches, teas, suppers and conference meals for guests, Kitchen Management, setting up for conferences, and hosting delegates. And I love what I do!
What advice do you have for graduates?
Do only your best. Keep your chin up, as with every job there are always pros and cons. With each obstacle you should keep your head held up high, no matter how low you feel. Be patient in filling in the paperwork and interviews in the beginning. Be prepared to begin from the bottom. And be committed!