From the Alps to the vineyards: Hospitality and tourism students travel abroad

Travelers atop Mount Titlis in Switzerland

FDU travelers take in the sweeping views from atop Mount Titlis in Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism)

By Kenna Caprio

In alpine Switzerland and northern Italy, Fairleigh Dickinson University students experience European hospitality and tourism firsthand for nine days each spring.

Engelberg. Lucerne. Neuchâtel. Gruyères. Lugano. Interlaken. Bern. Baar. Zürich.

Reggio Emilia. Florence. Parma. Bologna.

These are all cities and towns that the students visit, depending which trip they select: Switzerland, for those interested in hotel and tourism, or Italy, for those interested in food and beverage.

“This trip helped me realize I’m not afraid of change,” says senior Annie Kwon of Pasadena, Calif, who traveled to Italy. “I have learned how to be independent, be open to new things, find new interests and build my confidence. I can only think of the amazing memories.”

When Aixa Ritz, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, and the seminar coordinator since 1999, started running the trip, she realized it was much more effective just to visit one country for the week and immerse the students in one culture.

“We select destinations with hotels owned and managed by the same person because they have a vested interest in us coming back. They become our partners,” says Ritz. Relationships with hotel owners in Switzerland date back to 1999, and in Italy to 2007.

“The experience gives them great perspective in terms of how to react when they have international guests [later on],” says Ritz. “They can empathize with them, and then provide the guests much better service.”

The European Seminar, a two-credit course, is a curriculum requirement for all undergraduate students majoring in hotel and restaurant management. It’s also optional and open to students pursuing a bachelor of arts and individualized studies with a specialization in hospitality management, and occasionally to graduate students in FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism (ISHTM).

Switzerland group in Engelberg

Breathtaking Swiss mountains provide the backdrop at Hotel Edelweiss in Engelberg with students, chaperones, and hosts and owners Susanne and Peter Kuhn (both crouching at right). (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Tripodi)

“As pretty as all the pictures of Switzerland are, they don’t do the Alps justice,” says Kirsten Tripodi, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, who leads the Switzerland group. “When my son was little, watching him do something for the first time was like seeing it for the first time myself, and so it’s a privilege to get to take students on this trip and show them something so spectacular.”

This year, 18 students traveled to Italy and 17 to Switzerland with faculty guides.

“The biggest learning experience for me on this trip was seeing how upscale hotels in Switzerland are operated, and how they incorporate their superior hospitality and customer service skills into it all,” says Matthew Moore, a Florham Campus senior from Morristown, N.J., who went on the 2017 trip. “I would go back to Switzerland in heartbeat. I loved everything about the country.”

The Swiss trip begins in Engelberg, a small town nearly a mile above sea level and built around a monastery. The hosts at the independently-owned Hotel Edelweiss in Engelberg “are always on the floor entertaining and mingling with their guests. This is what going above and beyond in hospitality means,” says Metropolitan Campus senior Niska Perpignand of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. “I remember clearly [one of the hosts], said, ‘In hospitality, it has to come from the heart, not only the mind.’”

Then it’s on to Mount Titlis, another mile up in the air. It takes four gondolas rides up the mountain to get to the summit. On Mount Titlis, “I really felt like I was on top of the world,” says Perpignand. “It definitely is one of the jewels of Switzerland. Going up the mountains in the gondolas was so exciting. And it was a great bonding activity to get to know everybody in the program from both the Metropolitan and Florham campuses.”

Alumni often write to Tripodi about still craving the Swiss macaroni and cheese dish topped with applesauce, a local specialty in Engelberg, and about the night walk home, carrying torches through the forest. “People write on my Facebook page ten years later and say, ‘I can’t wait to go back.’”

Switzerland group Neuchâtel

Student travelers at L'Aubier, a sustainable with hotel in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, with assistant professor Kirsten Tripodi and owner Marc Desaules (both at right). (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Tripodi)

In Lucerne, Lugano and Interlaken students tour premier hotels and resorts, and hear from general managers about the industry. At L’Aubier, a sustainable hotel in Neuchâtel, the owner, once an engineer, shows the group eco-friendly practices. “It’s unbelievable. It’s on a farm,” says Tripodi. “He does this heat transfer thing. In the winter the forest is warmer. It’s about maybe a mile away, and he has these tunnels dug from the forest to the hotel. In the summer, the forest is cooler than the hotel and the tunnels do the opposite.” Heat from their refrigerators warms water to wash clothes at the hotel.

Other trip highlights include stops at a sustainable fish farm, cookie and chocolate factories and the clock tower in Bern.

In Italy, everything revolves around the food.

“The professionals we met were very passionate about sharing their knowledge with the students,” says Kwon. “They shared a lot about Italy’s history and their cooking skills, to make the food more delicious. It was very nice seeing everyone enjoying sharing what they know.”

Students at Academia Barilla

It’s selfie time at Academia Barilla in Italy with (L to R) Annie Kwon, Ashley Ferraro, Mariely Martinez and Shrehan Ahme. At the cooking school, students don chef hats and aprons and cook a full meal with professional chefs. (Photo courtesy of Annie Kwon)

The day at Academia Barilla always stands out, says Ritz. Students cook with the chefs at the cooking school and then receive a tour of the pasta factory, which is a special perk, since it’s not open to the public for tours. “They make pasta from scratch, and ravioli, chicken, pork, vegetables and dessert in two and a half hours,” Ritz says. “When I saw the reaction of the students, in chef hats and aprons, receiving a certificate after they finish cooking — it was an amazing experience.”

Students in Italy

That’s Rachael Cooper, Zaineb Saadeh, Alexandra Riggio, Simonne Duque, Mariely Martinez, Amy Almanzar, Annie Kwon, Nicole Ceballos, Kristen Gerbasio and Shrehan Ahmed with a view of the Italian countryside behind them. (Photo courtesy of Annie Kwon)

They travel to Parma to see how Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made, and the owner/manager of the hotel in Reggio Emilia makes his own balsamic vinegar, so they see that process as well. From there it’s a tour of a local winery to see the bottling process and enjoy a tasting.

A history professor from a hospitality school in Florence takes FDU students on an architectural walking tour of the city. “My best memory is of visiting Florence — the Duomo [Duomo di Firenz] especially took my breath away. It was such an amazing experience, it’s hard to describe,” says Kwon.

Duomo cathedral in Florence

One of Annie Kwon’s favorite moments of the European Seminar trip was seeing the Duomo di Firenz, a gothic cathedral in Florence. (Photo courtesy of Kwon)

The group hears about hospitality and tourism marketing from Italian hotel managers and owners, and visits an agriturismo, a farm-to-table style retreat. In Bologna, they go to a gelato museum and see a demonstration of how to make the sweet treat.

“The trips give them a much broader perspective of what can be done in their careers than what they would just be able to see and mimic here in the United States,” Tripodi says. “We’re planting really important seeds, ideas that they can have in the back of their heads and contacts they can reach back out to. That’s powerful.”