Service, Italian Style

In the summer of 2004, Dr. Gary Praetzel, dean of the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, launched a unique work-abroad program in Lake Como, Italy. Every year since then, Niagara University students have spent their summers learning service from some of the most opulent hotels in the world.

The Como work-abroad experience offers a total cultural immersion for the participating students, who live and work full time at one of the luxury hotels around the lake, which is located in northern Italy on the border of Switzerland. Among the participating properties are the world-renowned Villa d’Este, commonly called “Hollywood on Lake Como,” located in Cernobbio; and the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, located in Bellagio, “the jewel of Lake Como.”

“The students find this a life-changing experience,” Dr. Praetzel says. “They gain a new perspective of the industry and newfound confidence in their abilities through living abroad in this program of true cultural immersion.”

Jack Riley, a junior from Baltimore, Md., who worked at the Grand Hotel di Como this summer, agrees. “I truly love the Lake Como program because it enables you to live in a completely foreign and polar opposite atmosphere that gives you confidence and a love for the industry, seeing it in a whole different way.”

It’s not only the participating students who benefit from this experience: a student-exchange program with the University of Insubria is another feature of the Como offering. Each fall, Italian men and women come to Monteagle Ridge for the semester to take courses in the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. This helps to internationalize Niagara’s campus and brings a global perspective into the classroom, notes Praetzel. It also enables the Italian students to experience the practical industry application focus that is the hallmark of the college.

Where Are They Now?

Dr. Praetzel notes that students who complete the Como program are highly recruited by the best employers in the industry. “This program opens outstanding employment opportunities for many students, gaining jobs for them that would have been impossible without this experience,” he says.

Sarah (Pikul) Garis, ’07
Social media manager at the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group
Como experience: Front desk at the Palace Hotel, 2006

“My current position requires that I work with multiple partners across the globe. My work experience in Lake Como taught me a lot about the difference in service levels, hotels, and cultures across the world. These experiences help me every day when I work with others in our company.”

Evan Hanrahan, ’08
Senior event manager at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City
Como experience: Rotation through several departments at the Grand Hotel di Como, 2007

“Being in a foreign country with people you don’t know and speaking a language you are not fluent in forces you to learn how to communicate and find commonalities in order to be successful. Surviving this experience and finding a way to flourish in the environment gives you great confidence in meeting the challenges you may face in your work after graduating.

“When I come back to Niagara to interview students for our hotel’s management development program, I always look first for students who have worked abroad. I think the experience gained, not only in the time working in another country, but living and traveling there as well, helps prepare a student for success at the professional level.”

Matt Palmer, ’09
Front office manager at Hyatt Regency in Savannah, Ga.
Como experience: Rotation through several departments at the Grand Hotel di Como, 2008

“Living in Como on my own (for the most part) helped me mature as an adult, which made it much easier for me to move away from home after college and begin my life as a hospitality professional. The Como experience has made me much more confident and flexible as a person to take on new endeavors in unknown locations, with different people.”

Gabriella Monte, ’10
Front office director at the Eventi Hotel in New York City
Como experience: Reception desk at the Hotel Du Lac and Hotel Bellagio; kitchen at the Sporting Club, 2009

“The most memorable part of my experience was the lifelong friendships I made. I became extremely close with the Leoni family, which owns the three establishments I worked at. Working at a smaller property and seeing the one-on-one attention given to each individual guest made me realize that boutique properties are where I belong. The internship gave me confidence in the field and really challenged me to be the best I could be. I still reflect and tell stories about my experience in Bellagio. I find that diversity in cultures is crucial in our field.”

Claire Hogan, ’12
Customer experience and insights supervisor at McDonald’s USA
Como experience: Front desk and guest services at the Villa d’Este, 2010

“One of the main reasons I chose to attend Niagara University was specifically because of the Lake Como program. Not only did it allow me to work amongst people of diverse backgrounds, but it also made me a more well-rounded person. I gained valuable work experience, such as quickly adapting to change, communicating clearly and effectively, and being attentive to details; and was able to add foreign work experience to my résumé. My current boss has told me that my foreign experiences caught her eye and made her immediately pull my résumé out from the rest. Had I not participated in the Lake Como program, I may not be where I am today.”

Brianna Fries, ’12
Assistant food and beverage manager, Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Mass.
Como experience: Reception, fitness center and concierge desk at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, 2011

“Working at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni allowed me to meet people from all over the world and work with many international clienteles. That opportunity was priceless because I have become a more valuable asset to any company because of this experience.”