Mary Sowa - Case Study

From law to teacher.

For Mary Sowa, a shy, studious 22-year-old law student, her future was obvious but uninspiring – finish studying and get a job.


Then Mary met the tall ship Alma Doepel and everything changed.


These days, Mary is a gifted primary school teacher and school literacy leader, who enjoys a spectacular track record of ensuring that all the children in her classes graduate with age appropriate levels of literacy, regardless of where they started.

As a Gippsland Master Trainer (training other teachers), she’s also dedicated to ensuring that every child in Gippsland has the advantage of a solid grounding in literacy, as well.


All of this she attributes to the Alma Doepel. “It was Melbourne Open Day when I first saw the Alma Doepel at Station Pier and signed up for a weekend trip.”


Mary claims that she never responded to anything else in her life, as strongly as she responded to her first voyage on the Alma Doepel.


After that weekend trip, Mary then worked as a volunteer crew member on short tourist cruises for about two years, before signing up for the final 9-day voyage held before the Alma Doepel was pulled out of the water for her second restoration.


She said that she learnt an enormous amount about herself on the ship – both physically and emotionally.


“A pivotal moment was when I was taken up the mast by an inexperienced crew member. I was very afraid of heights at that time so I only made it half way up. But the next day, a more experienced crew member ignored my arguing and took me aloft again. I never looked back. I’ve loved it since then and I’m no longer afraid of heights.


“A host of incidents on the ship like this showed me I could achieve so much more than I ever imagined.”


As well as learning how to sail and maintain a tall ship, she also learned about its history. She learned the value of teamwork, how to trust other people in life-threatening situations, and how to trust in herself and her own abilities.


She said, “In family life, and school life to a certain extent, you tend to get put into a box. The Alma enabled me to break free of that box because no one knew who I was off the ship, only who I was on the ship. I felt this enabled me to be more me. I discovered I was really a people person with a sense of adventure, and was not shy at all.


“The sailing actually helped me get through my degree. Oddly enough, I did far less work on my studies, when I took up sailing with a passion, and I achieved far better academic results.


“It gave me to courage to change careers, from law, which I wasn’t that excited about, to teaching. And it highlighted my natural affinity with people from rural areas, giving me the impetus to take a job in Gippsland, which I love.”


Mary claims these experiences were the making of her as a person.


“Previously, I was not an outdoor person at all. I was happy sitting inside reading books. Now I’m always seeking new experiences that challenge me. I do a lot of outdoor activities. I’m far more courageous. I travel extensively and I love to photograph the places I visit.”


The Alma Doepel experience set all of this in train.

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