An Englishman Abroad … and the oldest intern in town?

Well, I’m heading off to experience being an intern abroad, Tenerife to be specific, so what better way to learn from this, and share the experience, than to commit to posting a regular blog. I’m sure there’ll be something in it for prospective interns (of any age) as well as for me, as I reflect on the whole thing. I plan to focus on a different topic each post, although there’s bound to be a few surprises too. So, from packing up and getting ready to go, through settling in, getting to work and trying to be productive, you should be able to get an idea of where I am on the rollercoaster to come.

Desiderius Erasmus… 16th century ‘humanist, scholar and reformer’. Not me.

The oldest intern in town? Well this is all happening in my early 50s after a ‘real job’ in the leisure industry and twenty years plus of university teaching – in fact that’s a real job too, but sometimes it’s difficult to argue the point. Another , career change? Well, yes you could say that, and there’s life in the old dog yet…

Why studying hospitality and tourism is one of the best routes to a satisfying international career.

Some degree courses get way more than their fair share of bad press, and those in hospitality and tourism in the UK are right up there at times. But let’s set a few things straight …

Why do a degree to be a waitress or work in housekeeping? Well ok, you can serve at tables with relatively basic training, especially if you have an interest in people, a friendly demeanour and an interest in the product : but it’s not just about food, drink or rooms is it… really… IS it? When was the last time you looked in a smart hotel or restaurant and wished you could stay or eat there? It’s about the experience – these are Experience Industries! The setting, the table touches, the crisp décor, the attention to detail in every aspect so you receive true hospitality.

Taking a degree in one of these subjects doesn’t mean you should get to skip the basics, but you’ll understand why not just how, you’ll be able to take the manager’s and the guest’s viewpoint. You’ll be able to deliver on their expectations and, given some experience, initiative and flexibility, you should be able to launch yourself into one of the most dynamic careers imaginable. You’ll only be doing the same thing in future if that’s what you choose to do.

Where will it take me anyway? So firstly, the answer is where do you want to go? If you want to stay in the UK there are plenty of upscale, luxury, boutique and simply special places offering memorable stays. Similarly we have some excellent tourist attractions catering for the interests and entertainment of a niche or mass audience. But what really interests you, and how far do you want to go? Because tourism can give you the chance to follow that interest at home or internationally, given some enthusiasm, dedication and people skills.

To really take control over your future, to take control of a business in this fast-moving field of technology, marketing, service and investment yes, you guessed it, that’s where your degree comes in. Taking a degree in one of the experience sectors – hospitality, tourism, leisure, sport, events – should be a commitment to develop yourself beyond your early career and give yourself power to choose where it takes you, not be led by it.

So where will it take you? That’s up to you, but there’s a world out there, Europe won’t disappear with or without Brexit, and these industries are both important and respected beyond our borders as well as in those enlightened places within the UK. So the USA? Of course! France, Italy or Spain … why not? You can chart your future or you can see where it takes you. But with a degree and experience you’ll be ready.

I’ll never get rich working in the hotel or tourism industry! No? Frankly there are plenty of people who’ve ‘made their millions’ in these areas, some very close to home and from humble beginnings, … is that what it’s about? The fact is that these experience industries offer the chance to shape people’s life experience, to shine light on people, places and opportunities your guests and visitors may never have dreamed of. But this isn’t a one-way street : toiling to make others happy. You can shape what you want to get out of this business and earn a good living doing so.

A degree, or rather working towards that degree, should give you the tools to accelerate not just your learning but your experience and your future career, should you wish to follow it. At the same time, if you understand what goes into service settings like a hotel, restaurant or attraction, how to manage finances, marketing and people, or how to deliver an unforgettable event, you can use those skills in pretty much any other service sector. The choice will be yours.

You’ll be rich in opportunity if you choose this path, or if you can develop entrepreneurial flair and hard work there’s no reason you can’t make a great living and do a job you really enjoy too.

Get a real job! There’s so much expectation placed on employability now, and rightly so, but getting a ‘real’ job, a worthwhile job, takes commitment, focus, knowledge, skills and a few lucky breaks. You can make those lucky breaks more likely as well as developing the rest by realising that a degree in hospitality or tourism, or any other experience industry subject isn’t an easy ride.

It takes partnership between you, your university, your tutors, your employers, as well as the support and belief in you that comes from family and friends.

Think of it this way… so you joined a gym to lose weight, get fit, look great. But you’re not going to get any results if you don’t go. If you go to the gym but just sit and watch without doing anything, that will be just as pointless. You could do the minimum gym routine, that might make a difference. Or you go to classes, use a personal trainer – this is where your lecturers and tutors come in, where you get truly involved. You just do as you’re told by the professionals and you’ll be getting somewhere. But if you only do as you’re told in the gym, and if you don’t get inquisitive, ask questions about what else you can do, where else you can go to improve, your future ‘shape’ will still have limits.

So ask questions, engage in your education and development at home, university, at work, locally and internationally and now you’re in the driving seat. Look for the international, mind-broadening, culturally enlightening and inspiring experiences that these industries uniquely offer. It takes a little investment but the benefits and opportunities from a degree in hospitality and tourism – they’re global!

Choosing an Internationalised University Experience

Choosing where to study for a genuinely international experience can be a minefield. Here we offer tips about things to look for and questions to ask, as well as places to look for evidence of true internationalisation to help shortlist your university choices.

Many universities realise that internationalisation is the way forward. Unfortunately this isn’t always going to work in your favour. As a UK- or EU-based student you will often find that what’s portrayed as an ‘international’ university is rather one looking only to recruit from emerging markets outside the EU. There’s nothing at all wrong with a focus on these regions but you’ll need to look below the surface if you want a truly international higher education experience that meets your needs.

So, questions you need to ask, whether applying early or through the post-results ‘clearing’ process…

  • Will I be able to study abroad as part of my degree? This revolves firstly around whether study abroad (such as Erasmus study at another European university, or an exchange between universities) is an approved part of a degree. Generally this means the university must have a formal agreement with any partner university you might be able to visit. This might, for example, be in a European country or further afield e.g. the USA or Canada. They’ll have to have compared what you could study at the partner with what you would study if you stayed, and these have to be similar. Some universities require a perfect match or you can’t go. Others have more flexibility and look at your overall learning. Either way you need to know does the reality meet the ‘potential’ to study abroad. And how much control you have over what you can study whilst abroad – part of the attraction is to study new subjects, so will this be possible?
  • Will study abroad count for credit towards my degree? If there is a close or exact match between your ‘home’ and partner university you should get academic credit towards your degree. A UK degree offers 120 CATS (UK credits) per year (60 per semester) through a credit transfer scheme. This is equivalent in Europe, to 60 ECTS (European credits) for the full year. Each module (in Europe often called ‘course’) you take will get a certain number of UK credits, perhaps 15, 20 or 30 CATS, which is equivalent to a certain amount of study time. In European universities these modules are often smaller, and not just because every 10 CATS is worth 5 ECTS, so it would be important the number of module credits taken abroad matches the total in the UK.
  • Would I be able to take a period of work experience abroad as part of my course, and would this give me credit towards my degree? Many universities offer a period of work experience, often called ‘placement’, and for some it counts towards the degree using credits to recognise the length of the placement. For others you may need to defer your studies for a year to take a year abroad for example, and receive no credit but some useful experience for the future. Work experience modules that attract credit may be short, e.g. to fit in a university break like Easter or summer, they may be a whole term or semester (perhaps 10 to 12 weeks) or the full year. Universities should support you finding a placement and if it attracts credit they’ll need to approve it – so ask ‘what sort of support will I get finding a placement?‘ If they have a dedicated team to do this, great – how many students get ‘placed’ each year, and how many fail to find a position?
  • What are the cost implications if I work or study abroad while taking my degree? If you have to defer a year to work or study abroad you probably won’t get financial support such as a student loan, as it’s not technically part of your course, but you also won’t be paying university fees so seek advice from the university finance advisor. Of course if you’re working, earning and gaining experience this may be a ‘win-win-win’ situation but you need to be aware and plan accordingly. If study or work abroad is part of your course then you may get support in the form of a loan, you may need to pay fees to one or other university/partner, and quite possibly both. Consider the ‘investment value’ of an international experience. This isn’t only a financial decision it’s about shaping your future opportunities and employability. But you also need to think of practicalities – can you afford the financial ‘bottom-line’ of the experience, do you need financial help to make it happen, and is this help available?
  • When can I work or study abroad while taking my degree? A year abroad is rather simpler in many ways, but there will usually be restrictions. First year is too early of course – you wouldn’t be ready to link class learning with real-world experience or, for example, business practice. Second year is commonly the time students will go abroad, whether for the year, a semester (half a year), or a term (roughly one third). In this case you’ve got the basics of your degree under your belt, and will be prepared to contribute to an employer’s organisation or to study at the next level but in a different location. UK universities are seldom keen to allow you to work or study abroad in your final year, so that they can control your education when most of your UK degree classification is decided. Vacation periods, especially in the era of so-called ‘fast track’ degrees, might be a time for working abroad (for credit or just experience) or studying abroad (to enhance your skills, knowledge and maybe even earn credit). But beware – will you need a rest after a hard year’s work at uni before moving to the next level? Is ‘fast-tracking’ your degree the right thing to do at this time in your life?
  • If I go to work or study abroad, what practical support will I get? There is a host of things you’ll need to sort out and these can seem bewildering but aren’t insurmountable given the right help. Ask what sort of support you’ll get and from whom in terms of finding an employer or university abroad, choosing modules/courses linked to your international experience, finding accommodation, organising learning or employment contracts, arranging insurances, fulfilling any visa or immigration requirements, making travel plans. Universities often have specialist advisors in finance, accommodation, welfare as well as academic guidance tutors – will they help you and if so, how? Will their help be available to you while you’re away too?
  • What support will I get to learn about the culture of the place I will study or work abroad, or to develop my language skills? Some universities abroad will teach in English, others their native language, and often a mix of the two which can open up new opportunities. Similarly, international employers will often operate in more than one language. This can give you some flexibility, but it is important you prepare for any international experience by developing some awareness of their culture and some understanding of their language and how it compares to yours. Are there parts of the degree that will help you develop these cultural skills and knowledge? Will they give you credit or are they outside of the course structure? Can they be achieved through the university within the time you have to get ready to study or work abroad, or will you need to look elsewhere? Unfortunately there’s been a trend for UK universities reducing or completely dropping language provision. Ask if this is the case, if there is language tuition or support available, how and where this happens. It’s not all about language skills, so don’t let this put you off, but some willingness to communicate in a second language goes a long way!
  • Tell me about some students who have studied or worked abroad on the course I’m interested in taking. It comes down to whether it will really happen through the university or whether you need to look elsewhere for your international experience. For data protection reasons they won’t be able to put you in touch with past or current students directly, but maybe they have some examples to talk about, or case studies on their website. If they can’t tell you about specific examples, ask whether the university would allow you to explore international work experiences yourself, and again what sort of support you might get from the university.
  • Finally, what are the university doing to offer a genuine international, intercultural experience for their students? This might include a wide cultural diversity amongst staff and students on your course and across the university, although this alone is not enough. What provisions outside the class are they offering to broaden students’ cultural awareness and experience? How are they engaging with international employers at home and abroad to enrich students’ opportunities? What universities abroad do they have partnerships with, in teaching, learning, exchange and not just research? What new international initiatives are in the pipeline, and will they be delivered in time for you to benefit?

Remember, choosing a university is a commitment to the next few years at least, over which time both you and the university itself will change. By asking the right questions you’ll be making an informed step into the future.

You’re starting an adventure, so give yourself the tools to navigate … whenever, and wherever you choose to go!

The Paradox of the Unknown

For many of us the unknown is a source of anxiety but also of fascination. It’s the very uncertainty that drives the inquisitive or curious soul.Things that lie on the edge of familiarity or understanding can be left right where they are, but doesn’t that make for a life less interesting… or less lived?

Once you’ve reached a little beyond the norm, why not seek out experiences and opportunities that will add more to life and to your ability to adapt in the future?Any international or intercultural experience in work or study, at home or abroad, offers to take you from the banal to the beautiful, from the present to the potential.As one day leads to the next, make the next one count!

Inquisitiveness

This has to be a prerequisite for success navigating and enjoying international intercultural experience and relations. Without curiosity and a genuine interest in other people and places then it’s all rather superficial.

Curiosity, empathy, adaptability will all stem from being inquisitive, asking questions and observing. All this makes you ready for success in whatever arena you find yourself in.So observe all around you, use your eyes ears and nose, and be ready to askabout what you see hear, smell and taste. Learn how to do this in the language of the country you’re visiting and of the people you’re with.

Show an interest, share the experience!

Setting your language learning goals

Every journey starts with a first step, and in this case your first step is working out why your traveling in the first place and recalling where you’ve been before.

1. What do you want your new language skills to allow you to do?… Order (or appreciate) food and drink and ask for the bill ?… Survive a week’s leisure trip abroad? … Get a holiday job in a different country?… Study abroad?… Live and work abroad? Or just get to know someone better whose first language isn’t yours? Knowing your goals will help focus your learning, even down to the vocabulary you’ll need and what to prioritise.

2. What language(s) have you studied before and what have you learned from the experience ? Languages like people have families to whom they’re related, and frankly it’s easier to learn a new language that has links to your first language or to another you’re at least familiar with. Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian all have shared roots in Latin, while German and Norwegian come from a Germanic family. English cuts across both families, Britain having historic associations with Saxons, Romans, Norsemen, Normans and others.

This can be seen as a linguistic advantage to an English speaker even if we don’t always recognise this! It’s also important to understand how you learn best (see my previous post) because different resources use different approaches and different methods that may or may not suit your learning style.

3. How much time do you have? Are you in a hurry because of an upcoming opportunity or deadline? Do you have leisure time to devote to taking up language learning? Understanding the time available will help work out whether you need an intensive course or a leisurely and less formal approach.

4. What motivates you? Are you competitive, sociable, do you want certificates and qualifications or just to communicate better, are you wanting to travel or earn money or both? Knowing what spurs you on will help you choose the resources that will help keep you motivated even when at times there’s hard work needed.

5. Finally write down:

what you want to do and why; what specifically you’d like to learn; when you will do this learning and when you’d like to see progress ; and list the sort of approaches and resources that have worked for you in the past.

Now go looking for resources and opportunities with an open mind. Along the way I’ll give you suggestions, all you need do is consider them and maybe try something new. It may just set you on the path to achieving your own language goals and the cultural adventures they will lead you on.

Tailored language learning

I have to take issue with any ‘ one-size-fits-all’ approach to learning a second (or subsequent) language. There’s clearly an important place for class-based teaching and learning, especially when it offers any form of peer support, but this is not the only way if you prefer to take a different route. There are three main views on language learning, namely structural, functional and interactional perspectives, just as we all have different learning styles: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Simply put, we learn to different extents by observing, listening and doing.In language learning terms we might lean more towards learning the structures and rules of languages, as might a mathematician or scientist. Alternatively we might learn better when we have a specific purpose or function in mind… working in a hotel in Paris or a sports stadium in Madrid for example. Finally we might be more focused on getting to know people, their lives and their culture through interaction – maybe you have an Italian boyfriend or business partner? Any or all of these perspectives might come into play at any given time when the opportunity arises to learn a new language. It’s up to you. With a little reflection and self awareness you can work out what your goals might be and how you learn best. One you’ve worked this out you can choose whatever language learning approaches, techniques abs tools to use, tailored to what should work best for you. Each one is a big step in the right direction!

Talking Language for the Experience Industries

Language is not just a medium, it’s a passion. This has been on a slow burn for a while but there’s never been a better time to encourage others with a like mind to take a dip in the sea of words foreign and fascinating, and so come out renewed.

But why the Experience Industries? Well for one, that’s where I’ve worked for the past thirty years, in le loisir (leisure), los deportes (sports), gli eventi (events) , and l’hospitalité (hospitality) and el turismo (tourism). Todos son experiencias! And were the parenthèses really nécessaire? Get my point?

Languages we don’t speak as our mother tongue can still be accessible with a little effort, so this is where I want to take you. Start your romance with languages right here and I’ll be right there with you.

Let our adventure open up new horizons and new understandings!

Changing The World

If you’re a student, graduate or young professional, working in or studying hospitality, tourism, sport or events, my goal is to help you to see the world a little differently. In particular I want you to see how accessible it is with a little effort in the right places.

My background is firmly rooted in the experience industries… we used to call them the leisure industries but now they offer so much more. I’ve benefitted so much over the years from my own intercultural adventures, so it’s time to help others do the same. I may not be changing the world but if I can change the way you experience the world, so much the better.

Don’t just sit there waiting for the day to come to you, get out there…