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Groomed for success

January 22, 2013 | Campus News

IT is something of a throwaway observation to note that academic news in Malaysia is largely Peninsular-centric.

Success stories are automatically associated with individuals from the Peninsular and other localities are often reduced to mere afterthoughts by the bright lights of the Klang Valley and other major cities.

So when it turns out that the achievers come from East Malaysia, the effect is rightfully magnified.

This is certainly the case for 16 students of UCSI University’s Sarawak campus who recently secured coveted internships at luxury hotels and resorts in Japan and Singapore.

The renowned Niseko ski resort – widely regarded as one of the world’s premier ski holiday destinations – tops that list and two UCSI students, namely, Michele Kong Suet Mei and Rebecca Tan Shuh Ying, wrote history for themselves – and the University – when they were selected for five-month internships.

Now entering the fourth week of their stint, the interns opine that that the exposure they are receiving is invaluable.

“It’s a totally different environment and work culture compared to Malaysia and I learn things on a daily basis,” Tan enthuses. 

“Everything happens so fast around here! I had to master the booking system, reply emails, act on feedback, offer quality service to our many guests and arrange pick-ups, in addition to the daily grind of managing check-ins and check-outs.

“The resort is vast and I’m still trying to figure out how many properties Hokkaido Tracks – the company behind Niseko – really has!”

Equally effusive with her feedback, Kong explains the steep learning curve she had to navigate upon her arrival, getting over the initial jitters as it was her first time going overseas on her own.

“It’s quite a challenge to work with so many people from different countries; to learn from each other and to voice our opinions on various issues,” she muses.

“The internship is going well for me and it is a nice change to be able to experience it in a foreign country – an extremely rare opportunity for a university student!”

On a lighter note, the girls are united in their view of a challenge that can’t be overcome easily: Mother Nature.

Kong opines that the weather is the hardest thing to get used to as she never experienced snowfall before. The unforgiving temperature – below 0°C – complicated matters and although she is slowly getting used to things, more time needs to be allocated for adaptation.

Along with the weather, Tan grapples with the vast expanse of snow that may adversely affect one’s directional prowess.

“I am still unfamiliar with the many landmarks and I have lost my direction a few times when I prepare and inspect rooms at different properties at the resort,” she gamely admits. “I had to radio headquarters to get directions from my supervisor.

“Whenever I go out now, the first question he asks is whether I know the locations, and more importantly, whether I think I will get lost again! I think this is funny and it makes my internship more interesting.”

Marvelling at the efficiency and reliability – traits that are quintessentially Japanese – of their senior colleagues, Kong and Tan point out that Hokkaido Tracks is actually Australian-owned.

“It is really impressive to see how they retain the uniqueness of Japanese culture, while displaying the Aussie laidback approach at the same time,” Tan explains.

Taking the lead from their foreign colleagues who speak Japanese fluently, the girls have signed up for language classes and they enthuse that this will boost their career prospects.

Pausing for thought, Kong and Tan credit their alma mater for grooming them for success.

“My time in the UCSI Student Council and the various roles I played really prepared me for this internship as I learned how to work and play together in a team with individuals from different backgrounds,” explains Kong.

“The learning system in place at the University also taught me how to prioritise tasks according to urgency and this helps me at Niseko as I am required to get things done in a timely manner.

“More importantly, UCSI played an integral role in setting up this internship. The University put us in touch with Hokkaido Tracks and I would not have known about Niseko without their assistance.”

The duo’s positive experiences are shared by their 14 friends who are currently away on six-month internships at premium hotel chains in Singpaore like Wyndham Group Hotel, Marina Mandarin Hotel, Movenpick Hotel and Resort Sentosa, as well as the Conrad Contennial Singapore Hotel.

Commenting on the feat, UCSI Sarawak campus chief operating officer Lu Huong Ying said that the experience would boost her students’ employability and raise the aspirations of their peers.

“The university endeavours to give its students wholesome hospitality education through unique placements like these,” she enthused.

“Exposure at such companies will equip our students with the business acumen of the global economy and they will learn to appreciate different business cultures and perspectives. This will serve them well in their future careers as they develop into global citizens who are competent and capable.”

Votes of confidence

The achievements of UCSI’s students add credence to the role the University is playing in the national endeavour to reshape the domestic tourism and hospitality industry through education.

Despite being the fifth largest contributor to the Malaysian economy, only around 16% of all personnel in the industry possess the minimum qualification of a diploma or a degree.

To match the industry’s projected growth, the Government has highlighted the need to raise this statistic to 20% and the Malaysian Centre for Tourism and Hospitality Education, better known by its acronym, MyCenTHE, was set up to achieve this.

Led by UCSI, MyCenTHE – a coalition involving some of Malaysia’s foremost public and private higher education providers – is on track for a full national rollout by 2020 and four clusters are currently operational in Sarawak, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Sabah.

As the first successful cluster in MyCenTHE, it is somewhat fitting that UCSI’s Sarawak campus is getting its time in the spotlight.

The campus has attracted a number of foreign students from First World countries like Germany, Denmark and Canada, among others, in recent years and the trend is set to continue through student and staff exchange programmes.

And with more student achievements on the cards, UCSI’s Sarawak campus is showing that Malaysia’s appeal as a preferred education hub extends far beyond the Klang Valley. 

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