Dimitra Bouchari’s friends and family had always encouraged her to consider a career in shipping, as it would suit her personality.
“I am a very sociable person and I am open, and they thought this would make a good fit with the sector,” Bouchari told TradeWinds.
But no one had banked on her bid to enter shipping being shaped by a global pandemic, national lockdowns or remote working.
Bouchari studied Industrial Management and Technology at the University of Piraeus and, after a spell at Unilever, where she had previously done an internship, she decided that accounting was not for her but maybe shipping could be.
Seeking out the best course, Bouchari set her heart on an MSc in Shipping, Trade and Finance at the City of London’s Business School — formerly known as Cass — in the UK.
She won a scholarship from the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, the charitable trust founded by Greek shipping name and Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, to partly fund her studies and started her course in 2019.
Bouchari fell in love with the subject from the first term.
“I was like — shipping economics it’s so interesting, let’s go!” she said. “I have so much more to learn.”
The one-year Cass masters is notoriously intense, including nine-hour tuition days.
“The library was my first home, and my apartment was the second place I was going just to take a nap,” she said.
Highlights included volunteering at the 35th anniversary of the Costas Grammenos Centre for Shipping, Trade and Finance biennial meeting in London.
But all that was to change in the second term. Students had been grouped randomly to seek solutions to issues relating to shipping, supply chains or energy for an industry-backed competition.
Bouchari’s team zoned in on the acquisition and operation of a power barge to help ease electricity shortages in Tanzania and set about researching their business plan.
But while at work in the library an email landed, informing students that all courses would be moving online due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bouchari said it was very sudden, frightening and horrible all at the same time, and that she was unsure what to do for a while.
Sometimes when you need to push harder you become stronger.
After a difficult week, she decided to return to Greece and continue her course remotely.
The transition was not an easy one; she along with her peers suffered from frayed tempers, poor motivation and productivity. She recalled that many felt cheated and asked why it happened to their study year. But she was determined to buck the mood.
“You have to think of the whole picture sometimes and not just yourself,” she said. “So, I decided to be more positive.”
Bouchari said she enjoys face-to-face contact rather than on-screen virtual conversations, so the shift to remote working had its hurdles.
“It was a challenge for me,” she said. “But sometimes when you need to push harder, you become stronger — eventually.”
It clearly worked.
The Tanzanian power barge project was eventually presented online, first making the finals and later scooping the £1,000 ($1,300) prize after being selected as the winner by a panel of professors and invited industry guest judges.
Bouchari has seemingly boundless energy and completely embraced the Cass master’s experience at every level.
Not content with a punishing academic year, she also threw her name into the ring and was elected as Cass Shipping Society co-president for the year, organising a series of student events.
“I love volunteering,” she said. “When I believe that something is important and I think it expresses me and what I believe in, I want to be part of it and help — even if it doesn’t have anything to do with a salary.”
Finishing her masters this summer, Bouchari took a break after what had been an intense year.
But she is not one to take it easy for long.
“I’m not really used to sitting and doing nothing as a person,” she said.
She is now actively looking for a position in shipping to get some hands-on experience of the industry.
Working in a chartering department in a big company such as BP or a shipowner would be Bouchari’s dream job.
She has a leaning towards the tanker sector, where she enjoys watching how the wider energy markets affect the business there.
But she is alive to the prospect of working in a variety of roles and other countries.
As Greece and much of Europe enters a second round of Covid-19 lockdowns, Bouchari’s comment on her interrupted year of studies is something many may relate to.
“I hope that we go back to normal and I can still hug my friends and my teachers and say how much I thank them for everything that they have done,” she said.