Two Southwest Minnesota State University students are learning about the hospitality industry, and Chinese culture, this summer.
Alycia Hohenstein, a senior Hospitality Management major from Dassel, and Samantha Kraling, a junior Culinology major from Stewartville, are interning at the Hilton Hangzhou Qiandao Lake Resort, located in the village of Qiandao Lake, about four-and-a-half hours southwest of Shanghai.
Dr. Michael Cheng, Professor of Culinology and Hospitality Management, facilitated their internships.
Hohenstein works in the front office and does "the small jobs that take time but need to be done." She has also been doing "a lot of online training to learn the property management system at the hotel."
Adjusting to the language barrier has been the hardest part of the internship so far, she feels. "I like to talk to people and not being able to understand what everyone is saying is really difficult to deal with sometimes. I've gotten a lot better at gestures to figure things out. Most of the people I work with speak some English, so finding someone to interpret is usually how it works. I never feel like I know the whole story about what is being said, but I've gotten better about accepting that and ignoring it when I need to," she said.
Her internship lasts three months, and she'll return at the end of September. "I will be working on my classes while am here to stay caught up," she said.
Hohenstein said hotel operations are the same in China, yet at the same time, different.
"It's exactly the same as in the States, yet it is completely different. I sometimes have to remind myself that I am not just in a different part of the country, but that I am in a different part of the world. Everything operates the same, but in a slightly different way. It's hard to explain or for me to wrap my head around it. Nothing is shockingly different, except the food."
As for the food, "They don't waste anything. Finding bones in your food is to be expected, and eating seafood with the heads and fins on is normal. Everything is spicy. I love spicy, but this is much different and a lot more of it. I can say that I have a mental list of all the food I want to eat when I get back"
Kraling has had a desire to travel the world since she was young, so an internship in China was something she embraced when the opportunity presented itself.
She is currently helping check in guests, carry luggage, deliver amenities and makes sure the lobby is in order. Shortly, she will move into the kitchen, where she'll help prepare dishes, present plates and help keep the kitchen area clean.
For her, too, the language barrier has been tough. "I now know how foreigners feel when they can't understand or speak English. It's extremely frustrating. I rely on body language quite a bit to figure out what people are trying to say. My Chinese has improved, I'm able to communicate with guests using simple phrases. It helps that my co-workers are happy to each me new words."
Kraling's internship lasts six months, and she's already learned that driving in China is an adventure. "It's quite frightening," she said. "There are speed limits, but no one really follows them. The medians and even the direction of traffic are really very loose guidelines."
She has noticed, too, "that the Chinese have an obsession with Disney and Marvel characters."
She's a fan of the food. "It's fresh and simply prepared. Most of my meals consist of rice, vegetables with small amounts of fruit and meat. I'm an adventurous eater and have had a few interesting things: live shrimp, chicken feet and stomach, cicadas, jellyfish and duck's tongue. There's really not a food item I miss. If anything, I miss being able to cook my own meals."
For both, the internship is life-changing. "It is something I couldn't have done in the States," said Hohenstein. "I have learned a lot about a lot of different things, and I can't wait to apply it to my life back home."
Kraling concurs. "I've seen some pretty interesting things. I've met and become friends with many different people and I've experienced and learned a lot of new things about China, and myself."