This past summer, Stacey completed a hospitality & tourism internship in Cusco, Peru. She was able to put her academic practice to use and left the country with real world, hands-on experience.
Maximo Nivel places interns based on their studies and career interests. From hospitality to animal care, childcare, education, environmental studies, micro business, social work and more, we can help to place students with a company that will allow them to utilize their studies while developing work experience that’s relevant to their future career. Opportunities vary by country, but most students will have the freedom to choose their desired destination; Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru.
This time, we caught up with Stacey who gave us insight into her internship abroad program. Here’s what she had to say about choosing a hospitality & tourism international internship abroad.
You’re only a junior in college. A lot of students your age might be intimidated about traveling solo to obtain an international internship. How and why did you make the decision to intern abroad?
My parents are slightly conservative in the sense that they were skeptical about me traveling alone for a gap-year before I started college. I’ve always known about the opportunities to study abroad so I figured I would do my best freshman and sophomore year to prove to them that I was a responsible student who took my studies seriously. I figured this would be the best way to convince them to let me study abroad.
However, when I realized that there were opportunities to intern abroad, I thought it would be even more beneficial and an easier way to convince my parents to let me travel.
After speaking with my counselor, I realized that interning abroad wouldn’t only grant me hands-on experience in my field, but I could also earn college credit. Working in a professional setting with a small hotel owner would be impressive on my resume and would boost my academic transcript at the same time.
I simply explained this to my parents, and we even had a meeting with my counselor who agreed that interning abroad would be beneficial in so many ways. Having already proven that I was now a responsible young-adult, I got their consent to intern abroad and I’m so happy I did.
If others are able to do the same, I would highly recommend everyone take the opportunity because it’s truly a life changing experience.
Was there a moment when you realized the transition from student to professional during this role?
I’m so grateful for the team I had supporting me throughout my internship. My title was “Hospitality Coordinator” for a boutique hotel not far from the main square in Cusco. The hotel was pretty popular with international business clients and our small conference room was usually booked during the week. I shadowed a long-time employee for the first few days, but I was told that I would need to fill her role when she was gone.
On her off-day, I knew it was all up to me to prepare the meeting room and take care of greeting the attendees as they arrived. I was a nervous wreck, but I took good notes and made sure to refer back when needed. I arrived a bit earlier than usual that day just to make sure I had enough time to prepare before the first attendees arrived.
I printed the agendas that were emailed to us and neatly placed them in front of 8 seats for the 8 professionals who were expected to arrive. I prepared the presentation and ensured that everything was working as it should be, so there were no disruptions in the middle of the conference. I also filled glasses of water for everyone, put out mugs for fresh coffee if anyone wanted any, and neatly placed two bread baskets in the middle of the table.
I took a few deep breaths and was satisfied with my work. I finished about 20 minutes before anyone arrived, so I was prepared to greet the first attendees and brought them to the meeting room confidently.
How was this internship different from any others you got involved with in the United States?
I only had one internship prior to this experience, and I was only expected to make coffee throughout the day, answer the phones, and take messages. Of course, being in a professional setting still made a difference, but it wasn’t challenging at all.
I think in my previous internship, I was nervous because it was new, but I wasn’t nervous about underperforming. However, in Cusco, during my internship abroad, I knew that if anything went wrong, it would be on me. Though the pressure was a bit stressful, the stress was necessary to get me to realize that I was advancing as a professional.
Did you realize any cultural differences in a business environment?
I think the stress and desire for acceptance and acknowledgement was due to my upbringing in North America. The rest of the team at the hotel seemed so relaxed, and I don’t think it’s because they’d been working with the company for a while – I think it’s just more natural in Latin America.
I remember one of the girls working front desk at the hotel didn’t have a reservation in the system for the guests who clearly had a confirmation email for the right hotel. She didn’t freak out. Although the hotel was completely sold out, and the guests seemed a bit frustrated, she kept her cool as if nothing was wrong.
She simply told them she would process a full refund, apologized for the mistake, and made a call to a sister hotel to determine if there was any availability there. Luckily, there was, and she promptly arranged a car service for them to be taken to the other hotel.
I was finally able to breathe when the couple exited the front door, but she had already been sipping her coffee long before then. She wasn’t rude or unprofessional. She handled it really well, but without the slightest bit of anxiety or pressure. It really made me reflect on the uptight culture of North America and the purpose of it. I still haven’t come up with a good reason.
What were your concerns about an internship in Cusco, Peru?
I had never traveled alone before this, so naturally I was nervous about how the experience would play out. But also, I was concerned about the language barrier and the potential culture shock. Nothing was as bad as I expected.
The one-hour Spanish classes included in my program really helped me to feel more confident speaking to the locals and other Spanish speaking international guests. It also helped me to form stronger bonds with the employees at the hotel.
I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to really connect with people who I’d be working with, but that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone was so warm and friendly, and we often hung out after work. They were interested in getting to know me and invited me to their weekly nights out. It was a really amazing group.
Do you think an internship abroad with Maximo Nivel was worth it for the price you paid?
Absolutely! I mean, the experience was priceless for sure. But even considering the fee I paid for a 4- week internship, it was nothing when I break down the cost of a semester into weekly payments.
In addition to receiving college credits, I got valuable work experience, expanded my professional and social network, and had the opportunity to travel to a completely different country. It’s an experience I would have never had otherwise.
I’m so thankful to Maximo Nivel for creating an atmosphere that’s so beneficial to students and travelers of all kinds. Whether you’re interning, volunteering, or studying abroad, their approach is one that will provide all of the necessary information without making you feel overwhelmed. The campus is an excellent facility to meet other internationals and even locals, and my own experience with the host family was unique. I’m truly grateful.
Can you tell us a little bit about staying with a Peruvian host family?
Honestly, I learned 100% more Spanish by staying with a host family than I would have learned otherwise. Google translate, reporting back to my Spanish teacher, and bringing home newly learned language structures was so much fun.
They made me feel like part of the family, and I often hung out with the daughter who was 2 years older and her friends. Luckily, she spoke some English, but she forced me to speak as much Spanish as possible.
The food was good, and I’m not really a picky eater so I had no issues there. I had my own private room and felt comfortable for my entire stay.
Any excursions or adventures you’d recommend?
Probably the usual – Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, of course. There’s a combi (shared van) that goes to Ollantaytambo where you can explore some off the beaten track Incan ruins, admire the natural beauty of the surrounding towns, and even visit the brewery in the Sacred Valley.
I did take a weekend to visit Lima, which is quite a distance, but if you have the time it’s a must. One site that I couldn’t get around to is the Nazca lines – one of the most mysterious sites in the country.
Any last thoughts or comments?
If you’re looking to do something out of your comfort zone – to grow as a person and as a professional – I would highly recommend an internship abroad. Employers are constantly looking for ways to differentiate between applicants, and international experience is the perfect way to grab their attention during an interview.
Not only is it beneficial for your professional growth but being in another country for an extended period of time exposes you to cultural differences, forges global understanding, and expands your perspective of the world. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet new people and either encourages you to continue on your path or helps you to make the necessary changes to align yourself with your new goals and interests.