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The lone woman on a ship full of men

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Emel Gok, second officer aboard a shipping vessel operated by Turkon America
Emel Gok, second officer aboard a shipping vessel operated by Turkon America - (Aaron Houston)

The other day, I had the opportunity to tour a massive Turkish shipping vessel as part of a series of stories about transportation in the state. I assumed I'd be the only woman on board. I was wrong.

I climbed the gang plank of the Ibrahim Dede then rounded a corner and started up a steep set of stairs. Standing right in front of me when I reached the top was this striking young Turkish woman named Emel Gok.

Her English was very broken, but she spoke excitedly about her work as second officer aboard Turkon America's container vessels, which transport goods from the U.S. to ports in Turkey and Egypt.

"I like it," Gok said, pausing to consider her words. "And I like seeing the other countries."

"I like this, New York, New Jersey," she added, smiling.

She studied at a maritime college in Istanbul and then started her career with Turkon America as the third officer aboard one of its shipping vessels. She was since promoted to second officer. She works for three months at a time and then gets about a month or so off.

"It's very difficult," she said of her work. "Every time working, every time working."

Gok said her parents miss her when she is away, but she's making good money and traveling the world. And she's set her sights on career advancement. When I ask her what she would ultimately like to become one day, she pointed to her boss, the ship's captain.

"Maybe chief officer," she said with a smile.

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson is a staff reporter covering midsized and growth companies, as well as women in business. Mary lived in Fla., Texas, Conn. and N.Y. before moving to N.J. with her husband and infant son. Email her at maryj@njbiz.com. She is @mjohns422 on Twitter. Read her blog, Breaking Glass.

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