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How I Got My Dream Job: Emma Mostrom-Mombelli, Scuba Diving Instructor

Topics: Career Profiles

For Emma Mostrom-Mombelli, a scuba diving instructor in Thailand for the past two years and a former divemaster in the U.K., a typical workday often entails diving deep into the depths of some of the world’s most beautiful oceans alongside a rotating cast of silent amphibious co-workers. The ambitious maritime adventuress recently spoke with PayScale to share some of her favorite things about diving, teaching, and what it takes to pursue a career in scuba diving.

scuba instructor

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

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Originally from Sweden and currently spending the winter studying eco-friendly product development in Pemberton, British Columbia, Mostrom-Mombelli stumbled into her love of scuba diving during a backpacking trip through Asia back in 2007, and has been hooked ever since.

The Gulf of Thailand, which surrounds the turtle-shaped island of Koh Tao where Emma regularly dives, is an underwater museum housing a fascinating collection of marine life, including a rainbow-hued spectrum of sea creatures that couldn’t be dreamed up by the most gifted of makeup artists. On any given day, a lucky diver on Koh Tao might spot green and hawksbill sea turtles, blue spotted stingrays, yellow boxfish, whale sharks, pufferfish, butterfly fish, scribbled filefish, bearded leatherjackets, titan triggerfish, pickhandle barracudas, or nudibranchs — to name just a few.

Name: Emma Mostrom-Mombelli

Age: 29

Hometown: Vasteras, Sweden

Current Location: Pemberton, BC

Companies: Scuba Schools International (SSI) and BSAC Thailand 

Title/Position: Scuba Diving Instructor and PADI-certified Divemaster

PayScale: What do you do, and what makes it your dream job? 

Mostrom-Mombelli: I’m a scuba diving instructor, and it’s amazing in so many ways. You get to show people this amazing underwater world and share your passion with them. You spend your days teaching and diving, and no day is ever the same.

PayScale: How did you end up here? What interesting or unexpected jobs or experiences have helped prepare you along the way?

Mostrom-Mombelli: I was traveling in Asia with one of my best friends back in 2007, and did my Open Water Course (entry-level scuba diving certification) on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand with my amazing instructor, G. I fell in love with diving right away, and same with Koh Tao – it’s still one of my favorite places. But my three-and-a-half-month backpacking trip was coming to an end (more so my funds), so I went to Norway to work and save up. I returned to Koh Tao a couple of months later to start my Dive Master Training, which is the first level of professional certification for diving instructors.

PayScale: What’s an average day on the job look like for you? 

Mostrom-Mombelli: As I mentioned, no day is ever really the same, but it’s usually an early rise (around 6 a.m.), then I grab a coffee and head down to the dive resort. Then, I either teach theory to students in a classroom (on Koh Tao, the beach was many times our classroom), teach diving basics in the pool, or you’re out on the boat to dive. In Thailand, our maximum number of students per group is six per instructor. Students come from all over the world: backpackers from Europe, families from the States, and students from Bangkok and Hong Kong.

on the boat

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

PayScale: Describe your office/workspace setup.

Mostrom-Mombelli: Some of the most beautiful oceans in the world! 

PayScale: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Mostrom-Mombelli: Sharing the beautiful underwater world with my students. There’s nothing better than seeing their smiles when they do their first dive and see what it’s all about! And, on Koh Tao, we were lucky enough to see lots of fish, turtles, stingrays, whale sharks, reef sharks, and bull sharks, to mention just a few – it’s magical!

a very big fish

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

What’s the certification process to become an instructor look like?

There are many different levels of certifications. The first step is Open Water Diver. For this, you need to take some theory lessons (approximately five hours’ worth), then usually an hour or so to familiarize yourself with the equipment, and then some shallow water/pool training, which is around another two to three hours. You must then log a minimum of four dives, down to a maximum of 18 meters [approximately 59 feet).

PayScale: Tool or device you couldn’t live without in order to do your job?

Mostrom-Mombelli: All of the scuba diving equipment. You have a regulator – this is the piece of equipment that provides you with air, and that regulates the air flow from your tank filled with compressed air. You also have a mask (important to not call these goggles – diver fail!), fins, and a BC/BCD, or “buoyancy control device,” which is the sleeveless jacket which you attach to the tank and regulator. Other pieces of equipment might include a weight belt, flashlight, diver knife, wet suit, and rash guard.


Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

PayScale: Did you go to college? If so, how did school prepare you for what you’re doing now, or how did it not?

Mostrom-Mombelli: I am currently taking Product Development at the Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) in Karlskrona, Sweden. I previously studied Marine Biology and Ecology at the University of Gothenburg (also in Sweden). To become an instructor, I took all of my scuba diving courses and first aid requirements at Big Blue Diving on Koh Tao. I am also looking into doing some technical dive training here in British Columbia (Vancouver has some of the best cold water diving in the world!), and would like to go back to school and complete my marine biology and ecology degree as well.

PayScale: How does your interest in product development relate to diving?

Mostrom-Mombelli: My main focus is anything “green.” My dream is to really make an impact on how we treat our world and our planet, I basically want to find every eco-friendly solution possible. This is why I started studying Product Development – basically taking existing products and making them better for the environment. And not just products, but also companies, by helping them to improve their processes, save energy, and minimize pollution. My eco-passion definitely comes from my love for scuba diving – it’s such a beautiful world under the surface, and my goal is to help keep it that way.


Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

PayScale: What’s the earning potential for a full-time diving instructor, and what kind of investment does one need to become certified?

Mostrom-Mombelli: Salary and costs totally depend on where you work and take the courses. Some places you might work in exchange for free diving, and food and accommodations; others pay hourly or per student. Asia is one of the least expensive places to do your training, but it’s still not cheap. It also takes time, because you need to get experience, and the only way to get this is to dive a lot, and assist and team-teach with other more experienced divers and instructors. It’s hard to give concrete numbers for compensation, but diving isn’t really something you do for the money. It’s for the lifestyle, and to wake up happy every day.

underwater diving

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

PayScale: What skills, traits or factors might go into making an instructor especially marketable? 

Mostrom-Mombelli: If there’s anything that makes you more wanted in the scuba diving industry it would be language skills and a positive hardworking personality!

PayScale: What would you tell someone who wanted to follow the same path as you?

Mostrom-Mombelli: Do it! You’ll have the time of your life!

PayScale: What is next on the horizon for you?

Mostrom-Mombelli: My ultimate goal is to complete my degree in product development, save up to buy a house in Canada (I’m currently waiting for my residency), and eventually spend half the year here, and the other half somewhere tropical, diving of course. I worked as a dive master in the U.K. when I lived there in 2009-2010, but cold water diving is more of a hobby for me. I prefer tropical diving!

PayScale: Is there anything else that readers should know about your job?

Mostrom-Mombelli: It really is a dream job!

tropical diving

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Mostrom-Mombelli

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