My journey on a University placement in Hong Kong

Written by Chris Wong, 22.

This summer I graduated from the University of Surrey with a First Class Honours Degree in International Hospitality Management, the four-year course included a professional training year, or ‘placement’. When choosing my degree in Sixth Form I knew this was one of the most important things for me as I had no experience of working in hotels until that point.

When it finally came to applying for internships in the second semester of year two, it became apparent that it would be far harder to choose something that I thought would interest me for a whole year. My first application was to Buckingham Palace, which although is not a hotel, the prospect of having Her Majesty the Queen as your boss seemed like an interesting concept. Unfortunately, my application was swiftly returned, although in hindsight I believe the placement sounded a lot more interesting than it would have been.

My next thought was that due to the number of universities in England, the competition for placement positions is far higher than elsewhere and that I should start applying abroad. At this stage, I have to recognise my privilege. I come from a middle-class background, meaning undertaking a placement in another country is a serious option. This is something that may not be the case for a student where the financial implications are more severe.

On my first day I was slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of working in such a place

Having already studied for a semester at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and having family living there, I decided to start applying for internships there. With the help of Surrey Placement Finder, the Universities own online catalogue of placements, I found the contact details for a sales and marketing internship at InterContinental Hong Kong. After a Skype call with the Director of Learning, she advised me that I should instead apply for the Executive Office internship which would be working directly for the General Manager. The next interview was with the General Manager, Mr Claus Pedersen, where he briefly discussed the nature of the work I would be doing, and with that I accepted the ten month contract and flew out ready to start in July 2018.

For anyone who has been to Hong Kong, the first thing that hits you in summer is the heat and humidity. On my first day going to work I was drenched in sweat, 90% due to the climate and 10% due to nerves, I had to stand for ten minutes in a nearby Starbucks under the air-conditioning before I felt comfortable stepping foot in the hotel.

The hotel itself is situated right on Victoria Harbour, with fantastic views of Hong Kong Island, it is a Forbes 5* property and has roughly 500 rooms, so as an intern on my first day I was slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of working in such a place. After sorting out the necessary documents with HR, the trainee I was replacing took me up to the office I would be working in. As an intern I was expecting a small cubicle style workplace near other placement students, but as it turns out, the office designated for the Resident Manager was vacant, and was next door to the General Managers office.

Every day was different for me, something I relished, my work needed constant collaboration with different departments

Two things crossed my mind at this point. Firstly I felt totally unqualified to be working here next to the most senior directors of the hotel, and secondly that this was the best opportunity I could ever have hoped for. Following a tour of the hotel, and introduction to the directors of each department, the trainees I was taking over from started the handing over of their work so I knew what projects and tasks I would be working on. The hotel was about to undertake a complete renovation of guest bedrooms, public areas and façade, something that had not been done in such depth since the hotel opened in 1980.

The majority of my tasks were related to this, including proposals for the owners, updating renovation timelines, categorising staffing initiatives for when the hotel is closed, accumulating pre-opening budgets, the list goes on. This meant that every day was different for me, something I relished, my work needed constant collaboration with different departments, most commonly Sales & Marketing and Public Relations. At the start, I did feel out of my depth. I was doing tasks for and with the directors of the hotel, and chasing full time employees for things I needed to complete my tasks, on behalf of the General Manager. I often thought they had no cause to listen to me – I was just the intern. I suppose it was self-doubt as a by-product of knowing I had no prior experience in anything similar to this, however all the employees at the hotel were so welcoming and accommodating I soon became comfortable with the environment and I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of work I did throughout the placement.

Outside of my office, there was a large group of trainees in the hotel in various departments, from kitchens to housekeeping to engineering, when I joined there were roughly 65 trainees out of a total workforce of nearly 700. One of the most enjoyable parts of placement is meeting new people, especially in Hong Kong where there is such a diversity of cultures and nationalities, it broadened my horizons and allowed me to meet people from all over the world. With other trainees we would explore Hong Kong on our days off, meet up for drinks after work and chat about what we’d been doing at work.

The beauty of placement is that you know there is a set end point, so make the most of the time you have

The ten-month placement I had flew by, the following April I was saying my goodbyes and handing over work to the next trainee. it was the best experience I’ve ever had. I would hugely recommend that all students undertake a placement year during their study. Being a part of a bigger team and having the accountability of knowing my work was being used by senior management gave me far more motivation than I previously had during university.

The hotel is now closed for renovations and will reopen as the Regent Hong Kong in due course, it is a shame to think that due to the restricted freedoms of Hong Kong and the battle for democracy that it is probably not safe for interns to look for placements in the city now; and I feel so lucky to have been able to go when I did.

Finally some advice for students looking for placements or ready to start one; it is normal to feel lonely when you move somewhere new. Embrace new experiences and meet new people, believe in yourself and your abilities, and most importantly – have fun. The beauty of placement is that you know there is a set end point, so make the most of the time you have and make every moment matter as the experience you gain in a professional environment can never truly be taught in a classroom.

This contribution was written by Chris Wong, 22. Visit his profile here to find out more about the voice behind the words.