By Gannon Thute
Gannon Thute interned with Marriott International in London, England this summer. He is a business management junior.
Opportunities, once they present themselves, rarely come around a second time. Such was the case this summer, when I chose to study abroad in London, an international center of business. What better time in my life to embark on such a journey? Constantly, over a 10-week period, I was faced with interesting decisions. Should I go with the group to do a certain activity? The answer, an overwhelming majority of the time, was of course! This summer, I was determined to make the most of an opportunity that was and is a once in a lifetime chance. Accordingly as a result, I have had one of the most unforgettable experiences with learned lessons and acquired skills that will help me in my professional development as a global citizen.
Ironically enough, I remember when I was touring prospective colleges, how adamantly opposed to studying abroad I was. “Why would anyone want to do such a thing?”, I remember thinking. In and of itself, that is a personal sign of growth, as now I have recognized and experienced first-hand the benefits of studying abroad. In addition to the opportunities for personal and professional growth, studying abroad provides a chance to travel and experience people and cultures that are foreign, thereby giving you a greater appreciation and understanding of what you have as an American. Ultimately, I am incredibly grateful to have had such an opportunity, as now I feel the experience will give me an edge in my life and career moving forward.
In the days leading up to the trip, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to go abroad. My shoulder, which I’ve had chronic dislocation problems with, decided a week and a half before the trip to act up once again. Immediately after the fact, I was devastated, thinking that this once in a lifetime opportunity was going to pass me by. Luckily, I was able to have arthroscopic surgery to repair the shoulder just in time for me to be able to embark on the journey. With this scare came an immediate sense of gratefulness. In my mind, now that this had been overcome, nothing was going to stand in my way from making the most of this summer.
Upon my arrival in London, I remember being struck by the awe of it all. Having taken the Heathrow Express, several newfound friends and I arrived in one of the largest transit stations in London—Paddington. To complicate matters, it was rush hour and we were well-equipped tourists, armed with oversized baggage, with little to no idea of where we were going. However, in that moment, I realized how amazing it was that I was now on the other side of the world, in such a bustling blend of culture as London. The shell shock of my situation was real, amidst all the rush hour chaos, as I was happily taking in my home for the next two months.
This sense of wonderment lasted for the first few weeks, as everything, while it was visibly so old, seemed so new. Upon reading that I would be working for a London Marriott, I couldn’t believe that I was being presented with such an incredible opportunity. I remember a few months earlier at a University career fair, going as a sophomore seemed to be more of a practice run than a serious engagement with recruiters, as no one paid particular interest to me due to my age. While that was understandable, that made my placement at Marriott Maida Vale in London that much more special—I was about to gain relevant experience in an industry of major interest to me—something not many people my age could potentially say.
And certainly gain the relevant experience, I did. While before the summer began, I knew I had an interest in hospitality, I didn’t have a particular interest in working in Human Resources. However, that changed this summer after working as an HR Intern for Marriott. No two days were the same, as I was constantly engaged with various projects ranging from social media promotion to performing internal timecard audits. My boss was exactly what I was looking for at the outset of this experience—someone who could mentor me in my professional development, as well as provide a great connection for me in the future. Working for him was a pleasure, as I felt throughout the summer I gained a greater sense of confidence and comfort in my work due to his teaching. The workplace in the UK certainly carries with it a more casual way of doing business. Meetings I attended were consistently prefaced with “catch up” sessions, ensuring that everyone was well before business began. Additionally, the social and work related aspects of life seem intertwined. Everything as a whole seems more laid back than it is here, from the management styles to the “colourful” language. Granted, my experience in the workplace is limited, and these are just my personal observations. Overall, however, working in this casual, social-oriented workplace was enjoyable, as everyone seemed more united while working toward the common goal of bettering the company.
As far as the social aspect of the trip is concerned, it was a remarkable experience both meeting fellow Eller students, as well as travelling around 7 different countries over the course of two months. I’m confident that I’ve made friendships that will carry on for years to come, because of this trip. Simply interacting with people from different backgrounds in different countries is fascinating. Everyone has his or her own story and opinion, and quite frankly you never knew whom you were going to meet. It’s amazing that different cultures and people are within a two-hour flight of each other. Amsterdam and Paris, for example are two very different places with different people and practices. It’s easy to forget here in America how things can be so close, yet so different due to our massive size as a country. Europe genuinely is a melting pot of culture, and it was truly unique to see first-hand different ways of living.
Personally, I feel this trip has allowed for personal growth in many areas of my life, which may have not been immediately possible if not for this trip. The first and foremost of these lessons is the overarching theme of this reflection—the need to seize opportunity. Hardly anything in life will be handed to you. If you want something, you have to take the risk and go and get it. Easier said than done, definitely. But in the context of life, it’s important. These coming years will come to define the path for the rest of my life, and I intend on moving to seize the opportunities presented in order to make the most of it. Building off of that, I believe that everyone has to make his or her own path, not conforming to the standards of society. Trailblazing and doing something you love are important. Each individual is unique and no one can tell you what to do or how to live your life. That’s a personal responsibility, which ultimately should lead to the goal of doing whatever makes you happy. Being on this trip has taught me the importance of this individualistic thinking, but also of the need to have a support system of friends and family who will be there to uphold these decisions and offer guidance.
The experience of studying abroad in London, in short, was truly remarkable. London is a beautiful city, one that struggles constantly with its own identity, being that its people are so culturally diverse. To anyone considering study abroad, I would wholeheartedly recommend it, as it offers you an opportunity for growth, both as a person and as a professional. This opportunity for growth, to this grand extent, isn’t available here in the United States. With my third year at the U of A approaching, I welcome it with open arms, armed with the knowledge and experience I’ve acquired abroad—namely to seize any and all opportunities.
Top image of Big Ben and Westminster at dusk courtesy Shutterstock.