Article by Roger Yun
When I flew to Switzerland to study hotel management, I never thought that I would be far away from my home, Xi’an, for such a long time. To pursue my goal to be a professional hotelier in a five-star hotel, I decided to go abroad to study in Switzerland and to travel all over the world, which has changed my perspective on life in many ways.
My school stands on the side of the Alps, in the French-speaking area of Switzerland. I could see the tranquil mountain and heavy clouds from my apartment in summer time. During my time at school, not only did I need to have lessons with classmates from all around the world, but I also had to take practical cuisine classes in the kitchen, where we had a tremendously fun time and laughed a lot.
I was facing cultural differences with other schoolmates, especially during teamwork-related activities. For instance, you cannot just walk up to French people and ask them questions without saying “Bonjour,” even if you see each other every day, otherwise you will be deemed impolite and lacking in manners. As another example, I always thought that Chinese students were great at math until I found out that Indian people all study accounting from middle school as a compulsory class. Italian people speak very quickly with many hand gestures, but they also have many things in common with Chinese, such as cooking in their free time and sharing food with one another. What I found most impressive was that all my European classmates could speak at least three languages, which will certainly be a strength in their future careers. It was sometimes difficult for me when doing a project with other students; it was a challenge to coordinate with group members from different countries and to ensure that we all stay on the same page. However, I always had positive end results.
During my free time, I needed to balance my studies with exploring the fascinating continent of Europe. There were so many weekends when I was on a train or flight, reading articles and books to prepare for an upcoming test, while having a day trip to Paris, Milan, Munich, Zurich or another European city. To this day, no matter how noisy the environment around me is, I can still read quickly and efficiently. For example, I am always on the road replying to email and also simultaneously keeping in contact with agencies to handle upcoming groups to our hotel.
When I had just returned to China to work, I found that in doing business with people from other provinces, each individual also has his or her own personality. I will adapt myself with different styles to win the business. Some people are very aggressive, goal-oriented, and will keep pushing for what they want; some people are amiable, and will not reveal their true thoughts until you pepper them with many questions. Some people are skeptical, always doubting whether your proposal meets their requirements or not. The experience of studying abroad taught me to always proactively think from our client’s position and be patient in handling all situations.
Regarding reverse culture shock, people tend to pay more attention to individual thoughts and to respect whether another is willing or unwilling to share or do something. When I asked my friend in Vancouver when he planned to get married, he replied that marriage is his own business and that no other people–including his parents–could force their opinion on him. In contrast, my sister in HK still shares many of the same opinions with me: I still believe that in Xi’an my hometown, a large percentage of my elders are always asking many personal questions, crossing this line of ‘personal information,’ and sometimes making younger people feel uncomfortable.
The benefits of having lived and studied abroad are not only measured in how much knowledge I have gained, how many places I have been to, how many friends I have made. They are also seen in how much observation skills and life experience have grown–I know that I could survive in any country, any city, and be capable of handling different obstacles.
Roger Yun, hotelier, traveler, is always pursuing new and exciting life experiences. He can be reached on Instagram, @rogeryunoo