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International students impacting graduate program at School of Tourism and Hospitality Management

By: Courtney Kubitza
First Published: December 10, 2014
Topics: In the News, STHM School

Lily Xuechen Huang hails from China’s Shanxi Province, nearly 7,000 miles from Philadelphia. Despite the vast geographical divide, Xuechen Huang said she knew about Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM), even describing it as “famous.”

Additionally, she said, her motivation to pursue a graduate degree at STHM was two-fold.

“It’s a competitive advantage coming home with an American degree,” said Xuechen Huang, a graduate student at STHM. “You can easily find a job.”

Xuechen Huang is one of many international students within STHM’s flourishing Master’s of Tourism and Hospitality Management program. During her time at STHM, Huang, who graduated in December 2014, said she gained valuable knowledge about the tourism industry by attending lectures and guest-speaker seminars, and through networking events offered by the School’s student professional organizations.

“I always tried to attend as many events as possible because I did not want to miss out on any opportunities,” Xuechen Huang said. “By networking, I was able to become the sales and marketing intern for Days Inn Philadelphia this past summer. This experience will hopefully allow me to attain a job with another hotel in Philadelphia after graduation.”

Huang is not the exception within STHM’s Tourism and Hospitality Management graduate program. Within the last five years, the program has seen an increased presence of international students, particularly those originating from Asia. That’s not a coincidence, either, said Michael Usino, STHM’s Manager of Marketing and Enrollment Management.

“This all began a few years back with the initiatives of Dr. Hai-Lung Dai, as Senior Vice Provost of International Affairs, to create relationships with universities in China,” Usino said of Dai, who is now Provost of Temple University.

Temple’s 3+2 structure has helped facilitate those relationships. The university’s 3+2 format enables international students to complete three years of undergraduate coursework before transferring to Temple University and traveling abroad to finish studies toward their Bachelor’s degree and attain a Master’s degree in Philadelphia.

“This University Provost initiative has greatly benefited us, largely because the tourism and hospitality field is a huge growth sector in Asia,” said Usino. “Over the last eight years our graduate program in Tourism and Hospitality Management has seen almost a doubling of our international student population.”

“International students are very aware of rankings and they want to attend the best institution,” said James Alton, STHM’s Manager of Graduate Student Services. “They want to go home with better skills, better standards and better practices so that they can stand out when they get back to their home countries, and also learn how to meet American needs when they travel abroad.”

This upward trend has added a unique diversity to the classroom. Because this graduate program requires students to work frequently within groups, students are increasingly learning sensitivities to cultural customs and world views unlike theirs.

“This experience is crucial to students’ futures within the tourism and hospitality industry for when they are required to positively engage with clients and guests who have dissimilar backgrounds,” Usino said.

Like Xuechen Huang, Jing-Huei Huang knows what sets apart STHM from comparable schools, and it’s as simple as an opportunity to shake some hands. A first-year graduate student, Huang pointed to STHM’s unique connection to the city in which it’s based as a difference-making attribute. She said she’s connected with industry leaders from some of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants and hotels while pursuing her Master’s in Tourism and Hospitality Management.

“I attended STHM’s career fair and met an employee from the Loews Philadelphia Hotel,” said Huang, a native of Taiwan. “This summer I am hoping to have the opportunity to receive an internship there. It’s a huge advantage for Temple. The university has a strong presence within the tourism industry in Philadelphia.”

She currently works as a research assistant under Dr. Yang Yang, STHM Assistant Professor, studying restaurant location analysis. And in January 2015, Huang represented STHM and presented their research results at the 20th Annual Graduate Education and Graduate Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism in Tampa, Fla.

“This program has enhanced my ability to conduct research,” said Huang. “It will help me achieve my desired career plan, which will focus in research, in the future.”

Hangpei Zhu, a native of China’s Jiangsu Province, graduated in December 2014. She chose Temple and STHM for a host of reasons, citing cost-effective tuition, Philadelphia’s place among the nation’s most-populous cities and the strength of STHM’s graduate program in Tourism and Hospitality Management.

“I am interested in finding careers in hospitality, but my undergraduate major was not hospitality-related,” said Zhu. “STHM gave me the chance to start my career in this industry.”

For international students whose second language is English, attaining a Master’s degree is no easy feat. Students credit Alton with aiding their smooth transition to an American university like Temple.

“Jim is a great resource, especially if we have a problem with communication,” said Huang. “He always encourages us to have more interaction with our classmates and to get involved with student organizations.”

“He always says, ‘My door is always open,’” said Xuechen Huang.

While Alton is a valuable resource for all graduate students within STHM’s graduate programs, he said he pays special attention to international students making sure they assimilate well with their peers.

“From time to time, I visit their classes and let them know that I am an available resource for them when they need it,” said Alton. “I think they have a pioneering spirit and a sense of willingness to take a risk and adventure. They have a great sense of curiosity for our culture. They have to be willing to fail and go out and try, but that’s the only way they are going to succeed.”

And for these students, traveling halfway around the world for a world-class education is only the beginning.