Practical training abroad during a global pandemic – still worth it!

Moving abroad is never easy, let alone when there is an ongoing global pandemic. In addition, finding a tourism related internship during a time when travelling is at its minimum seemed like an impossible task. Despite all this I decided to take my chances and applied to do my practical training abroad. And it paid off.

Practical training as part of the studies

For most tourism degree students in Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, second year summer means doing your practical training. It is part of the degree and worth 30 credits which is roughly 800 hours of work in total (including applying, interviews and other related tasks). The job has to have something to do with the degree but it can range from more traditional reception work to marketing or even HR. Practical training can be done either in Finland or abroad. It can even be split into two parts if the student wants to work in different positions in different companies or in different countries for example.

Students are responsible for finding their own PT placement. Some end up looking for job adverts on the internet, sending open applications to companies directly or contacting someone at the company. I did all of the above. I started my search very early knowing that the pandemic would make things harder for me.

Internship in Amsterdam

I didn’t need to think long where I wanted to do my practical training. After living in Amsterdam for nearly two years I had left behind a magical city that I had fallen in love with to start my studies at SAMK. This is why most of my applications were sent to various companies in and around Amsterdam. After sending 46 applications, each personalized to that company and position, 7 interviews and many rejections I found my practical training place at ClinkNOORD Amsterdam as a front of house intern.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city to live in. Its charming canals and houses make it very unique and beautiful. You can always find new fun places and things to do even after years of living here yet it is manageable in size. The city is also very international, it is home to 176 different nationalities, which makes it one of the most diverse cities in the world in terms of citizenship.

The Dutch are very easy going people and the city in general has a very chill vibe. Due to the pandemic I have not been able to travel from Amsterdam but Netherlands is a very small country so making a day trip to another Dutch city is very affordable and fast. Also cities like Brussels, Paris and Koln can be reached easily by train or bus for a nice weekend getaway.

Working at a hostel

I ended up doing my internship as a Front of House intern in a company called Clink Hostels at their Amsterdam Noord location. The building is an old Shell Head Office & Laboratory converted to accommodate over 850 guests in dorms and private rooms with nice and spacious common areas. ClinkNOORD has their own on-site bar and cafe as well. It is one of the biggest hostels in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately the pandemic forced the company to come up with a new strategy since there were no longer tourists flowing to the city. They, like many others in the industry, decided to offer long term accommodation. Due to the pandemic I did not get to see the hostel at its fullest with 300 check-ins on busy weekends. But that didn’t make my practical training any less interesting.

I was trained for the position at the reception for 4 days before joining the team and after 1 month or so I started to do shifts by myself. My main tasks in the reception are pretty simple and straightforward. I do check outs and ins, answer calls, emails and online reviews, and of course help guests with various issues, questions or recommendations. Still, every single day is different with its new challenges and new guests. In addition, the CatalystCafe is overseen by the receptionists so I have learned how to make cappuccinos, lattes and other cafe items. During my first months I have learned a lot about customer service and saw what it takes to run a big hostel like ClinkNOORD.

I get to work with some amazing people at the hostel. My colleagues have all been very supportive since the beginning and I truly feel like I’m part of the team. I’m proud to call myself a Clinkee and I have enjoyed my time as an intern here immensely. Working with the team here has been amazing and I’m very happy that I got to do my practical training at ClinkNOORD. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the fact that I won ‘the employee of the quarter’ award as an intern and after only working in the company for 4 months.

Now that I’m over half way through my practical training I can already say that I will miss this place and the people here.

Text and pictures: Milla Ruonala, third year International Tourism Development student

SAMK EduTravel is a double opportunity for education travel

If you work or study at SAMK, did you know an incoming travel agency dedicated to educational travel operates within our school? Then, meet EduTravel (formerly SAMK Bridge).

At EduTravel we organize visits for Asian students and education professionals interested in the Finnish educational system. The visitors attend classes or meet Finnish education professionals, and the reputation of the Finnish educational system makes Finland a very popular destination for education travel.

However, with EduTravel, the visitors are not the only ones benefitting from a learning experience, as every semester a team of students is hired, doing alternative tasks relating to their courses, which is also constructive for the travel agency itself. In normal times the work for students is mainly to prepare the visits for groups from abroad, and coordinating the details of the visits between foreign tour operators and our local schools and service providers. Fall 2020 proved quite different, however, with the pandemic and strong travel restrictions.

Studying with EduTravel

Last semester, Fall 2020, we were a team of 5 students: four of us second year and one a third year student of International Tourism Management. We all worked for the same goal: strengthening the basis of EduTravel and starting the foundation to make it more visible. If you answered yes to the question above “did you know that there is, in SAMK, an incoming travel agency dedicated to educational travel?” it means we had done a good job!

We had different tasks covering three different classes with alternative assignments to earn our credits:

  • Digital Marketing Communication and Content Management: tasks relating to starting the foundation for visibility through the website and social media channels.
  • Tourism Product and Experience Design: tasks related to building EduTravel packages (a very fulfilling experience learning what a package should contain and how to address the customer, which helped us build brochures with a much more comprehensive description of our beautiful Satakunta and all what visitors can discover coming here!)
  • International Tourist and Tourism Markets: for this course two students wrote ABCs about cultural dos and don’ts in China and Japan.

This way we were given the opportunity to learn by doing, applying action to theory. There was a real professional outcome with responsibility added to the academic learning.

Learning by doing, as we did, is one of the main defining points of the Finnish educational system, as opposed to remembering facts by heart.

Meet our Fall 2020 team of five students with two of the EduTravel mentors

Virtual Roadshow

Another great opportunity we were given last semester was to participate in a virtual roadshow with Chinese tour operators, organized by Visit Finland, enabling Finnish suppliers to market their services and find new possible partners.

The roadshow took place for a full week late November and was mentioned on our Facebook page, and generated positive new connections. We, students, did not actively participate in the meeting (we had classes and other assignments), but we were very active in the preparation for it: two of us wrote introductions, one of us a sales speech, another prepared needs charting to define what the tour operator on the other end of the call was looking for, and two of us did some benchmarking prior to the roadshow to evaluate competition and define what was unique about SAMK EduTravel. This was really fast paced but went smoothly, and we received very positive feedback about our work. We were given daily details about meetings which helped especially the student doing the follow up after the meetings (informative emails to keep the new connections active).

This roadshow was a really interesting, fast paced project where we all got involved. It also opened the door to the possibility of virtual “camps” where we could organize online classes.

Screenshot of the roadshow homepage with highlights of our presentation

Working during a pandemic

Fall 2020 was really interesting as it gave us another perspective to working in a travel agency: internal development activities offered different experiences when tourism is more closed to travel than welcoming it. We were able to look more deeply at what needs constant attention, and this period of pandemic, ironically, was a perfect opportunity for this experience, as we did not have the stress of planning visits and could really concentrate on the tasks and assignments we were given.

Furthermore, knowing the activities of EduTravel also allows us to do half our internship there, which is like a life saver right now when the pandemic has made it hard to find a place to work and many students from the previous year are still looking for a place to do their internship too.

To SAMK students, if this interested you, make sure to apply next time a recruiting email is sent to all Tourism and Business Administration students!

Text: Marion Plouet and Bogdan Enacica, second year International Tourism Management students
Photos: Bogdan Enacica