Tell us about yourself!
I am Esther and I am a fourth-year hotel management student from Estonia, currently doing my 10-month management traineeship in Brussels, Belgium at the Pillows Hotels. I am a very adventurous person and I have lived, studied, and worked in seven different countries so far but somehow, I feel like I'm still not done with exploring the world and travelling. I'm a bit restless you could say.
You made a change from one degree to another, how do the two work together and what inspired this change?
So, before I chose Hospitality as the field that I wanted to pursue my career in, I was studying Political Sciences for a year in University and while some classes were quite interesting, I found it to be too dry for me. So, after a year of studies, I went to work in the United States for the summer in customer service. This helped me realize even more that I needed to drop out of my current course, it was more like an eye-opener for me. After returning to Estonia, I ended up dropping my studies in order to find something that I would be very passionate about because studying for me isn't really about the paper, just to have a diploma you know, but to find something I would really be passionate about and really would want to do daily. So after two years of working and becoming more confident in communicating - because believe me when I was out of high school and, even when I went to the states, I was very shy - then I decided that hospitality was the way to go and I started my studies. However, at first, it wasn't really about hotel management, it was just hospitality service management in general but then I had an internship with Hilton. This is when I realized that I wanted to study proper hotel management.
And I believe that the two work together well, the politics and hospitality work together on a lot of levels. The main influence I think from the political studies was that I am more aware of the world through politics and what is happening around me. Even though I did study just for one year, it influenced me to keep up with what's going on in the world. To read the newspapers, to read about politics even though I'm not very interested in it, I still try to make sure that I, more or less, at least know what's going on in the world because I think even though we are in customer service, our business is affected by what's going on in the world a lot. So, if I want to have an international career, I know this is something I need to make sure that keep up with. Especially now during times like right now, it's necessary to know what's happening here, what's happening in South, Africa what is happening in the United States and so on.
As an Estonian spending 6 months in South Africa, tell us about your thoughts on our industry and how it compares to yours back home?
So, as an Estonian in South Africa, I think I was very pleasantly surprised by the whole country. I have to admit I didn't have much knowledge about it before actually going and I didn't really read into it that much. I didn’t Google it - I don't know why - but I'm glad I didn't because then I think I wouldn't have been so open to it. I probably would have been too scared I think to go to some places, but because I didn't educate myself about the country that much before going, I felt fine while there. When thinking about the hospitality industry, I was very lucky to see and compare different areas within South Africa, For example, Port Alfred and more specifically the MyPond Hotel, this was something completely different from places along the garden route and of course, Cape Town and what I observed was that the hospitality industry emphasizes different things than hotels in Europe do. Again, for example, I could compare housekeeping standards and areas of focus at MyPond with that of our hotel in Leeuwarden. As I was the housekeeping supervisor in my third-year practice module in Leeuwarden, what we were taught as important areas to monitor, were not necessarily the same in South Africa and Vice Versa. However, I then discovered that hotels within South Africa would emphasize different standards from one another. So, it's maybe not particularly between Europe and Africa but can be within the hospitality industry itself. I found this to be strange.
Tell us about the challenges you had to overcome with studying in a new culture?
So, I have been exposed to International Studies since I was 15 - quite a while. With this, moving to South Africa was not a big step for me in terms of experiencing culture shock. Rather, I enjoyed the change from studying in the Netherlands to studying in South Africa. One challenge was probably the way students interact and engage during class. At Stenden we have what we can PBL and CBL which is a graded class that encourages students to engage with one another and express their opinions. Coming from the PBL sessions in the Netherlands where no one is expressing their opinions and most students were very reserved and quiet to CBL in South Africa where all students had their opinions and were not afraid to share them, it was very difficult for me at first to open my mouth and participate in class. But, because of course we get graded on that, I had to push myself and I feel like over time I did get better at this and the class was of course so welcoming and warm to me. I didn't necessarily feel uncomfortable, but it was just something completely new. I absolutely loved that because you know these experiences shape you as a person as well and you shouldn't be afraid to express your opinion.
How do you feel having studied in varied tourism destinations has equipped you for your career?
I have studied in three countries, but I guess the biggest difference is between let's say Netherlands and Denmark together and then South Africa on the other side. Firstly, it has shown me how different literally all people are. This is the most important thing a person working in hospitality needs to understand. Our industry is all about people and I think I have always been very empathetic and kind and accepting but my experiences have formed these traits even further for me. Therefore, I will be able to understand my guests and my colleagues wherever they are from or whatever country I'm working in and what background they might have. I have experienced such different cultures and being thrown into so many situations where I had to adapt to all these people, all these new rules or etiquettes and so on, that by now, I'm not afraid to accept a job in most countries in the world.