Guelph degree is ticket to working abroad
Moving to another country where you don’t have any friends or family can be daunting, but not for Iris Lam, B.Comm. ’08. When the opportunity arose to work in Malaysia’s hotel and resort industry, she packed her bags and hopped on the next flight to Kuala Lumpur. She has been working at the Traders Hotel and Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, part of the international chain of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, almost three years.
As a project manager, she has been developing new concepts and renovation plans for the chain’s food and beverage establishments. “I am currently working on a bar-and-grill concept, providing ideas and bringing those concepts to life,” says Lam, who has also worked in Shangri-La hotels in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Singapore. “It’s giving me a chance to apply my experience from hotel operations.”
Lam says she enjoys working in an environment that presents her with new challenges every day and gives her the opportunity to use the skills she learned as a commerce student majoring in hotel and food administration at Guelph.
“I don’t really have a typical day,” she says. “Every day is a little different.”
On some days, she finds herself assisting the breakfast staff. On other days, she could be working on a marketing and promotions proposal for the hotel’s executive committee.
It didn’t take long for Lam to become acquainted with Kuala Lumpur’s culture, language and diverse population, which consists of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian people. She says one of the perks of working at the hotel is the food.
“Malaysian food is amazing, but it’s not well-known on a global scale like Chinese or Thai,” says Lam. She describes Malaysian food as similar to Indonesian cuisine with a blend of Chinese and Indian influences, but with “a little more spice and a little more kick.”
With so many dishes to choose from, it’s hard for Lam to pick a favourite, but she narrowed it down to laksa, which means “ten thousand,” referring to the multitude of ingredients that can be used to make it. Curry laksa contains noodles and shrimp in a broth infused with coriander. “It’s very fragrant.”
She also enjoys the endless travel opportunities available to her in Kuala Lumpur, an international hub for connecting flights.
Lam joined Shangri-La in 2008 when it opened its first North American hotel in Vancouver. Another hotel is scheduled to open in Toronto in 2012. She had the option of working in her native Hong Kong or in Malaysia.
“I thought it would be more challenging to work in another country, where I had no friends and no family,” she says. “You have to integrate into the culture, learn the language and figure things out yourself.”
Moving to the Malaysian capital was “scary and exciting all in one, so I knew I had to do it,” says Lam, adding that Guelph’s hands-on commerce program gave her real-life business skills.
Her experience outside the classroom was just as valuable. As a residence advisor, she met students from a variety of backgrounds. “Guelph really emphasized being inclusive and embracing different cultures,” says Lam, who also spent co-op terms in Toronto and at Collingwood’s Blue Mountain ski resort.
She encourages students interested in working abroad to experience life in other parts of the world through co-op, exchange or volunteer programs. Professors and alumni are also good resources for students to find international opportunities.
Lam acknowledges that being away from friends and family can be difficult, “but it’s not forever. You can always go home. They’re always going to be there for you.”
BY SUSAN BUBAK