It was after completing my first Co-op in Spring 2011 as a public relations intern with Canucks Sports and Entertainment that I realized how valuable co-op and work experience is. A business degree in tandem with hands on work experience is what will set me apart from the thousands of other business graduates, I thought. Although I was excited to graduate quickly, I also wanted to travel before I started my career. The summer after my internship I took six weeks off school to travel to South America and I immediately fell in love with the culture and people. I only wished I had stayed in one place long enough to truly discover each country. After one semester back in school, I decided an international Co-op was the perfect way to continue my work experience while exploring other parts of the world.
I looked at a lot of different Co-op opportunities in places all over the world but China was the one that caught my eye. Of all the countries that offer international Co-ops, China is one of the countries I knew the least about. Different language, different culture, different world. I was ready for an adventure and going to China for eight months to work at an international hotel seemed like a great opportunity to make new connections and discover the expanding business world in China. I left home feeling excited, nervous, and eager to learn. I knew there would be challenges along the way so I prepared myself to be immersed in a totally different atmosphere by greeting China with an open mind and positivity.
Before coming to China, I had never worked in a hotel, but it was always something that I had been interested in. I worked various part time jobs over the last six years in the public service and restaurant industry so I did have some experience in this area. IHG Hotels Group manages hotels brands such as Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Indigo, and Crowne Plaza. It is one of the most international hotel companies with hotels operating in over 100 countries and territories around the world. Working for such an international brand has given me the chance network with business professionals and learn more about operating a business in China.
For the past seven months I have been working at the Crowne Plaza Guangzhou Science City which is situated in an industrial area of Guangzhou. There are many different factories in the area which means that business professionals from all over the world come here to conduct site visits and quality assurance year round. As a guest relations officer my job is to talk with these business people and get to know them personally and collect any feedback they might have or solve any problems. I also coordinate with different departments such as sales and public relations to make sure the guest has the best experience possible and will come back to stay with us in the future. This has not only given me insight into the level of service that it takes to compete in China, but has also helped me to learn about brand standards and creating standards of our own.
Of course, great opportunities also come with great challenges. The challenges that I expected to be the most difficult such as the language and cultural barrier were actually the easiest to adjust to. Language barriers will always be a challenge when working or studying abroad, however, because I am working in an international hotel English levels are much higher than I expected. There are still moments when it is difficult to communicate with some of the staff but for the most part, their English is good enough to work with. Communicating with Chinese guests is a different story. Throughout the seven months I have worked very hard to pick up as much Mandarin as possible so I can communicate with our local guests. I taught myself the language for the first six months of my work term and when other foreign staff came to the hotel, they started a Mandarin class for us to learn together. This has been a huge help and has kick-started my desire to learn more and study to improve. Although it is a very complicated language which will take years to be familiar with, I think I have made big improvements in my language skills which will also serve me well in my business career. I plan to continue my studies in Mandarin when I get home.
To help improve our staff English levels and gain the most out of my experience in China, I started teaching English classes to the different departments within the hotel. I had never taught English before so I knew it was not going to be easy but I was excited for the challenge. The students all had varying levels of English from advanced to very beginner which made it very difficult to make lesson plans that would benefit everyone. It was also very difficult to get the students involved because they were either shy, embarrassed, or didn’t want to put the effort into learning English. Some of the older staff outright refused to participate. This was a huge struggle for me and it was difficult not to take it personally when I put so much effort into creating lessons and some of the students didn’t want to learn. It was also a challenge because there would be different people at every class due to varying schedules and sometimes people would be very confused because they were not at the previous class.
After getting really discouraged, I decided to e-mail my previous business writing professor who taught English in Taiwan for 11 years for some advice. He related to my issues of some students not wanting to learn and participate and gave me some tips to overcome these roadblocks which were very helpful. Since then, I have overcome most of these challenges by changing my expectations and trying to make the classes more fun. I incorporated games and tongue twisters into the lessons as well as role play to get the students more involved. These methods really helped the students become more open to participating and learning which made the classes more productive. Teaching English classes turned out to be one of my proudest accomplishments. After creating detailed lesson plans and tests for each department, from beginning to end there have been dramatic improvements in the staff English levels.
In addition to teaching the staff English I was also put in charge of creating service standards for our executive floor lounge and training the staff on these standards. Our lounge served breakfast and a small buffet for happy hour and was in need of some standards to help the new incoming trainees make a smoother transition. After creating detailed standards such as time limits for how long it should take for a guest to receive their drink, I put together a two-day training plan to reinforce them. The staff seemed to be receptive to the standards and it gave them clear goals and expectations. The feedback I received from both the staff and the guests was positive and it helped give our VIP guest a more exclusive-feeling service experience.
One of the greatest benefits of working for the Crowne Plaza is that it has given me the opportunity to volunteer for the Project Hope Fund which helps build schools and provide education to children in rural areas of China. Eager to be involved in such a wonderful cause, I volunteered to be a Charity Angel at their annual golf tournament and gala event. The day started early and the Charity Angels were some of the first people to arrive on site to help set up the reception area and organize the players. Once the tournament started, each volunteer was stationed at a hole where they would help collect donations from the players or help set up the activities. It was a fun filled day followed by a delightful evening which helped raise RMB 600,000 for our Project Hope Fund, an equivalent of around $100,000. It was an honor to be involved in such a great charity event and I hope to continue to take part in other charities when I am in Vancouver.
Travelling to China for an international co-op has been an overall wonderful experience filled with adventures and fond memories. In addition to travelling, the greatest part of being in China has been getting to know the people. The hotel staff has truly made Guangzhou feel like a home and it is something that I will never forget. The experience I gained working here has helped me learn and grow as a business student as well as taught me more about the culture and languages within China. I would definitely recommend this as a Co-op opportunity to anyone who is ready to challenge themselves to living in a foreign place while gaining experience in the hotel industry.
Beyond the Blog
- Learn more about the International Co-op Program.