Romulusi Masi – Kadavu, Fiji

You rewrite your destiny with the choices you make

“Every single one of us was born with the authority to choose. The choices we make every day shape our future whether we like it or not. You are where you are today because of the choice you made. I know I am.”

Originally from Mataso village in Kadavu, an island to the south of Fiji’s mainland Viti Levu and best known for the Great Astrolabe Reef, Romulusi Masi was raised in Nadera, a community outside of the country’s capital, Suva City.

Life as it was in the early 1990s was pretty easy, with increasing emphasis on the need for education and its importance in shaping one’s future.

He grew up in Nadera from humble beginnings; his father spent most of his time away from the family due to the nature of his work. Masi’s dad was a soldier and was often deployed on tours of duty in the Middle East, leaving the family’s matriarch to raise their children most of the time.

“With our mom looking after us most of the time when dad was away, we naturally got attached to her. She was our go-to person for everything and carried the burden of raising us.”

“Life was tough for our family. There were days when we didn’t have food on the table when we were little, and we never made a fuss because we understood our situation. Despite it all, we knew we had each other’s back.”

It was this humble beginning, the bond between Masi and his six siblings, and their mother’s nurturing that formed the foundation of the lad’s aspirations to make something of himself, no matter the challenges.

Time went on, and Masi started school. Together with his immediate older and younger brothers, they attended Saint Marcellin Primary School in Suva, a time he vividly remembers.

With a reminiscent smile, Masi said, “At times, one of us would be without a bus fare. So, we’d walk in the rain, cut through the famous golf course in Vatuwaqa (this was our shortcut), and use the other two’s bus fare to buy snacks from the shop to munch on while we made our way home”.

“These were some of the things that fueled my aspirations to excel in school. The difficulties we faced growing up birthed a competitive edge within me, and as a result, I always finished at the top of my class throughout my primary years.”

The soon-to-be 33-year-old holds a leadership position as the Sports Manager for P&O Cruises Australia, a British-American-owned cruise line. However, his leadership skills are something he’s been working on since he was in Year 7.

Whilst at Marcellin Primary, Masi was chosen as a school prefect in Year 7, and the following year (2004), he scooped the top award for his school, having finished top of his class in his external examination.

The lad moved on to join one of the most prominent schools in Suva and Fiji, Marist Brothers High School, for his secondary school and chose accounting and economics as his subject speciality “as I was always good with numbers and also because it was what my parents wanted me to do”.

It so happened that his father wanted him to be a lawyer, “but I could never picture myself as one”, while his mother encouraged him to pursue studies in accounting and economics once he completed secondary education.

High school was a breeze for the Kadavu lad, and in 2009, he visited The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Open Day. With his parents’ advice ringing in his ears, he visited the numerous booths from the different schools at the university with their various enticing programmes.

It wasn’t until he visited the School of Hospitality and Tourism booth that he was intrigued by the display and the smiling faces of previous students on a brochure “I was given by Dr Apisalome Movono (former USP lecturer), and I immediately pictured myself in it”.

“I rubbished my initial application to pursue economics and accounting, which I had filled out from home, and filled out a new application form, this time for a Bachelor of Commerce in Hotel Management. It was a prescribed programme that was going to start in 2010. I have never been so sure of anything except making my choice during the USP Open Day.”

This was the choice that set Masi on the path he’s on today, the one that shaped his destiny and one he described as “the best decision I’ve ever made without a single ounce of regret”.

In 2010, he started his higher education at USP, and like most new students, “I’d message my mates after any class so we could hang out. I didn’t actively explore or seek out new friends during my first year”.

When the second semester of 2010 ended, Masi realised he had failed one of his units and “it made me feel horrible. My stomach was tied in knots, and it made my heart sink”.

“It affected me so much because my dad was paying my fees. I was a private student, and failing a unit meant I was throwing money down the drain. It wasn’t my money to waste; it came from my father’s retirement savings. I can’t be doing this.”

This was one of the defining moments of the young man’s life that prompted him to reflect on his priorities and attitude towards his studies if he ever had the chance to get to where he wanted to be. “At the end of 2010, I decided to do a summer class and took another attempt at the unit I had failed, and I eventually passed.”

During his second year at university, he started to make friends whose goals aligned with his, and he also started doing voluntary work for the school’s various initiatives.

At the USP Careers Fair in 2013, Masi, along with other students from his programme and school, had the opportunity to talk to recruiters “from different hotels and agencies, and we spent around five minutes with each table to find out more about the company or to see if we are best fit to join their team”.

It so happened that P&O was also present, and there was already a list of top students submitted to their recruiters who would have the opportunity to secure a spot to do their attachment programme with them. “I wasn’t on the list because I had a massive visible tattoo on my arm.”

“I spent five minutes with all recruiters present, including P&O. Once everyone was done, we sat outside and had lunch when one of the recruiters from P&O came out looking for me. They wanted to see my tattoo. I didn’t think much about it, but the fact that they came to ask for me afterwards made me realise that I must’ve done or said something that caught their attention.”

“Little did I know this was going to be the beginning of my journey with P&O. After several interview processes and other necessary tests, I was selected as one of the six students to do their internship with them, and I had to travel to Australia.”

It is one thing to learn and absorb knowledge in a classroom and another to put that learning into practice.

The real struggle began when Masi started his attachment with P&O in Australia on board the Pacific Pearl, where he worked in three departments: housekeeping, bar and restaurant.

“My first two months on board were with the housekeeping department. At times, I’d start my day at 5am and work to clean and organise 40 cabins in one section. For each section, there were only two cleaners. I was paired with another USP student who was also part of the internship programme and had already graduated.”

“He couldn’t hack it and often questioned why he had to do this. On the other hand, this was part of my study, and I would be graded on my performance during my internship.”

“I’d clean the toilets, scrub the bathroom floors, and ensure the shower was cleaned and everything is ready before the next guests board. I would often end my day around 9pm. I knew this was the industry I wished to join, and the things I was doing were the stepping stones to where I eventually wanted to be. Nothing good ever comes easy”, Masi remarked.

After two months with the housekeeping department, he moved on to the bar, where he learned the skills to serve people and gained a few lessons for two more months before spending the last two months at the ship’s restaurant.

He returned to Fiji at the end of September 2013 and completed his three remaining units in semester 1 of 2014 before he applied for the second graduation round at the Laucala Campus in Suva.

Masi’s hard work during his internship didn’t go unnoticed as Panapasa Buadromo, “one of the people I met during my internship with P&O, working as a receptionist, reached out to me about a receptionist opening. I quickly got my papers together and sent my applications. After a week, I received an offer to start the very next month, just a few days after graduation. I wasted no time signing my six-month contract and started preparing to move. Everything started falling into place”.

Soon, he was returning to Australia to start his professional career. The phrase started from the bottom; now we’re here, truly reflects the Kadavu lad’s aspirations.

Things looked up for the hardworking lad as he quickly climbed through the ranks at P&O, and in 2017, he was working as an Assistant and, at times, acted as Manager Destination.

Just as the wind started to pick up on Masi’s sail, a storm knocked his aspirations down and caused him to get fired from work.

“I got so drunk and slept in. When I woke up, I made my way to work, but when I showed up, it was too late.”

Disappointed, sad, and regretful were the emotions he had to navigate for months as he watched his dream sail farther and farther until it became a dot on the horizon.

“I returned to Fiji and stayed with one of my friends in Lautoka for a month. My parents didn’t know I was in the country, and I was too ashamed to go home. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I’d let my family down, my workmates who brought me in, and those who helped me move up the ladders at work. I felt like I also let USP down, the institution that helped me realise my dream and those who helped me along the way.”

Once he mustered some courage, he returned home “to my parent’s place and stayed with them for a while. I could see the disappointment in their eyes, but what helped me gain hope was that they asked if I was okay and didn’t tell me off. They ensured I was okay and reassured me that it was not the end of the road”.

For nine months, he wallowed in self-pity until he decided to retake control of his life in 2018 and give his dream another chance. He applied and got a job at Sixth Senses (a hotel on Fiji’s Malolo Island) in their front office before he moved on to work at Kokomo Island resort a year later, where he spent three years.

His determination to work towards his dream was soon cut short as the COVID-19 pandemic affected global tourism, halted movement in and out of the country, and its trickling effect hit the tourism industry and the hospitality sector, wave after wave, causing mass lay-off and thousands of people unemployed.

Once COVID-19 became endemic, the machinery of the tourism industry started to run, slowly gaining momentum a month at a time, and hotels began hiring and reaching out to their staff (including those who got laid off) and wishing to return to work.

The experience and lessons from COVID-19 were reflected in the global hospitality sector as it struggled to get people back after thousands who were laid off sought job security.

As Masi prepared to get back on his feet, “The P&O Youth Manager reached out because they were having a hard time trying to hire people or get them back to work. I applied during that period, and I got the job”.

As fate would have it, Masi’s impeccable work ethic (besides the one-time drinking incident) and guest reviews from the thousands of guests from previous trips he took care of were enough to speak for themselves and got him back through the door at P&O.

“After a month back at P&O, I was promoted to look after adult activities on the ship for seven months before I moved further up to become the Sports Manager for the cruise liner.”

Counting his blessings, the 32-year-old (turning 33 in June 2024) realised he had to change a few things to live the life he wanted.

“Now more than ever, I live by the words I once heard from a guest lecturer, Simon Harper, during one of our TS109 classes, and that is to “Bite off more than you can chew, and then you chew like a bastard”.”

Masi is among a small group of Fijians in the international cruise industry, showcasing the Fijian/Pacific hospitality that is known globally.

“In the global tourism industry, people have heard about this hospitality, and it wasn’t until we worked in this international space that they realised what it means.”

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