Serving Guests and Becoming Tourists in Tianjin, China


Genevre and Mildred from SIT’s Hospitality Business programme benefited from an enriching OIWSP and deep cultural exchange in Tianjin, China, in 2023. 

Genevre and Mildred on a trip

Mildred (extreme left) and Genevre (extreme right) at a theme park with the friends they made during their OIWSP. (Photo: Mildred and Genevre) 

They were two Hospitality Business interns on a mission: to learn more about the country that topped Singapore’s tourist visitor arrivals – China.

“I wanted to immerse myself in Chinese culture and learn more about the country to serve them better when they are here,” said Genevre Low, a Year 3 SITizen. 

Mildred Sim, also in her third year at SIT, shared that she wanted a taste of the work life and culture in China. Before pursuing her degree in SIT, she worked full-time at Resorts World Sentosa, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a role which required frequent travel. Prior to embarking on her Overseas Integrated Work Study Programme (OIWSP) in Tianjin, China, Mildred interned at a hotel in Finland and worked full-time for a hotel in the Maldives.

“I’d decided to go overseas for my IWSP. It’s fun to experience different cultures, plus I’m thinking of working abroad after graduating,” shared Mildred. 

Learning to Serve, and Serving to Learn

Genevre and Mildred were posted to the operations department at Fraser Residence Tianjin, an upscale serviced apartment hotel. Most of their guests were Japanese expatriates working in the nearby industrial zones and foreign athletes playing for Tianjin in the Chinese football league. They were long-term guests and had moved in with their spouses and children. 

Genevre with Guests

Genevre (extreme left) on a day out with long-term guests of the apartment hotel. (Photo: Mildred and Genevre) 

The two interns helped with front office duties, guest relations and concierge services. Whenever there were the occasional short-term guests, they helped with the check-in and check-out, too. A large part of their duties involved helping to resolve guest issues and making guests happy – an effort that did not go unnoticed. By the end of their internship, both Genevre and Mildred received written compliments on their service quality.

“We built many relationships during our time there. We would look forward to the kids returning from school and sharing with us what they did,” shared Genevre. 

“We were there long enough to see some of the younger kids progress from sitting in their stroller to walking independently. At first, they were wary of us, but eventually, they would smile and wave whenever they saw us. I was sad to leave them when our internship ended,” added Mildred.

Excursion for guests

As part of their OIWSP, Mildred and Genevre had to plan excursion trips for their guests. (Photo: Mildred and Genevre) 

One of their most memorable projects was planning an excursion for the residents. Mildred and Genevre visited nearby mountain ranges to research their options. They eventually settled on a glass water slide activity, where guests could glide down a see-through slide and take in the stunning 360-degree views of the scenic cliffs and lush forests. The event went well, and residents who signed up were thrilled by the outdoor adventure.

The “One Month, One Travel” Project

It was not only the experience of living and working in Tianjin that exposed Genevre and Mildred to Chinese culture. The chance to visit a different city every month during their days off allowed them to see other parts of China and meet more locals, many of whom were travelling as domestic tourists. Some of their new Chinese friends even invited Genevre and Mildred to visit them in their hometowns.

“When I went to Nanjing for a tour, I met a family who was so hospitable. When the mum saw that I was travelling alone, she asked me along for meals and paid for everything. She also invited me to visit her hometown and booked everything from accommodation to tickets to the local museum,” shared Genevre.

Mildred has a similar story of how a local friend she made while exploring Inner Mongolia invited her and another traveller to her house in Hangzhou. Unfortunately, their visit clashed with the friend's major work event, so a friend of the friend took them around the city instead.

“She brought us around for two days and refused to let us pay for anything. I was so touched and grateful by her generosity,” said Mildred. “She didn’t even know us!”

“Other than experiencing the Chinese work culture, visiting their local attractions and interacting with locals on a more personal level were huge eye-openers. This cultural exchange was my biggest takeaway from the OIWSP,” added Genevre.

Growing Outside Their Comfort Zone

Genevre and Mildred at dinner

Mildred and Genevre winding down on their day off. (Photo: Mildred and Genevre)

Not everything about their overseas stint was rosy, of course. There were a fair number of challenges, especially in their first month, when they struggled to set up their bank accounts and Chinese digital wallets. International credit cards are not widely accepted in China, and banks there have strict rules for opening accounts. When opening their accounts, Mildred and Genevre were asked to present both their passports and identity cards for verification. However, they left their identity cards back home in Singapore.

The delay in opening their local bank account meant they had to rely on the little cash they had brought – even then, many merchants preferred digital payments – and plan their purchases with extra care.

“When you’re on an overseas internship, you have to be prepared to be prudent, independent and resourceful. And in China, you can’t even Google for answers because it’s blocked!” said Mildred.

Genevre commented that the OIWSP experience changed her, made her more resilient and taught her many life and soft skills. Her command of the Chinese language also improved remarkably, which came in useful recently when she had to interact with many Chinese guests during her part-time job back in Singapore.

“It’s not just about being able to understand better what they’re saying, but being able to speak with the right words suitable for the service industry,” reflected Genevre.

“I learned how to read the room faster and adapt more quickly to what is expected of me. I also realised it’s probably wiser for me to gain work experience elsewhere before applying to work in China, where the work culture is quite hierarchical,” shared Mildred.

Now that they are back in school, they can relate their IWSP experiences and observations to the theoretical concepts taught in class. For example, while learning about revenue management, Mildred recalled how Fraser Residence employed different strategies to attract different market segments.
“After our internship, it’s easier for us to appreciate and understand the new concepts we’re learning,” added Genevre.

“Also, I’m surprised at how much I miss China. I’ve already booked my air tickets so that after my exams, I can go back!”

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