Since 2004, Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management
has offered its students summer work-abroad opportunities at luxury resorts in a region of Italy The New York Times described as "a playground for the wealthy."
Located in northern Italy, on the border of Switzerland, Lake Como is situated in the foothills of the Alps. Shaped like an upside-down Y, it's regarded as the most spectacular of the region's three major lakes, with a winding shoreline that's sprinkled with ancient villages and exquisite villas.
Sophia Cerulli is one of six NU students plying their craft in Lake Como. She is stationed at the Villa d'Este
, a five-star hotel that has earned the nickname "Hollywood on Lake Como" due to the cavalcade of movie stars, writers, artists and musicians that have stayed there. George Clooney, Madonna and Donatella Versace are among the notables rumored to own homes in Lake Como.
While Cerulli has yet to check in any celebrities, she said she is grateful to gain practical experience at an internationally renowned resort.
"This hotel has so many moving parts that work together to create a service experience that is world-class," observed the hotel and restaurant management major from Red Hook. "During a guest's stay, from start to finish, every employee strives to serve them above and beyond their expectations. My coworkers, in reception especially, have been wonderful examples of this service. They have also been nothing but kind, patient and welcoming toward me, which has been a huge help while living and working here in Italy."
Niagara University requires students who are interested in participating in the 10-week study abroad program to spend at least one year studying the Italian language.
Lydia Newton, of McDonough, New York, has added Italian as a minor and said developing proficiency in a language that she has studied for four semesters is one of the trip's biggest perks. The rising senior tourism and event management major said she is hopeful her work as a front desk attendant at The Palace Hotel
in Lake Como will help her secure a position in hospitality after graduating from NU.
Niagara's study abroad program is coordinated by Dr. Joel Reynolds, an assistant professor who accompanies the students to Italy to get them acclimated to their new surroundings. He noted the focus of the program is on developing superior customer service skills while immersing students in a different culture.
"As a founding member of Hotel Schools of Distinction, we consider it our responsibility to offer our students a passport to the world," explained Reynolds, a certified executive chef, sommelier, and hospitality and culinary educator. "The ability of our students to enjoy practical experiences - near and far - allows them to acquire a global perspective on the hospitality and tourism industry, and is a major reason why they graduate into rewarding and lucrative careers."
Rising senior Kathryn Ryan has spent most of her summer at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni
in Bellagio, Italy. She wrote an email to Reynolds that noted, "There is no place else I would rather be."
"The internship has been an amazing learning experience and I've grown so much in the last month here," wrote Ryan, of East Aurora. "Since I've started, my Italian has improved and I have learned so much, both culturally and within the hospitality industry. The internship has been much different than I ever imagined and has challenged me in ways I never thought possible."
"I can definitely say that living abroad has been the best experience," Cerulli added. "I have met the most amazing people, traveled to the most beautiful places, and have been able to embrace Italian culture like a true local. This program has allowed me to step way out of my comfort zone, and I'm excited to see what the last few weeks will bring!"
Most of the NU students return Friday, Aug. 3 (some have made plans to extend their stay).
Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management offers undergraduate programs in hospitality, including hotel, restaurant, food service and club management; tourism and recreation management; and sport management. A master's program in sport management was introduced in the fall of 2013. In addition to the study abroad experience in Lake Como, the college also offers a dual degree program in Germany.