From Malaysia to Luxembourg: A Hotelier’s Internship Journey

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Colleagues at The Box, Luxembourg. Photo by Keila Herawan

Not many stories featured here are about Luxembourg. The pretty but small country is a gem not many has experienced, but our contributor, Keila, was lucky: she had the opportunity to do an internship at the country’s leading exhibition center for three months, all cost covered. Here is her exciting story.

My story began way back when I was still pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Sunway University Malaysia. I was an International Hospitality Management student when on the last semester, I was asked to team up with my friends from Vietnam and Malaysia to join Malaysia Bid Challenge 2016. It was a nation-wide Business Meeting bidding competition.

At first, I was hesitant to join the competition since it was happening the same time I was doing my final research project. However, I thought that it was a very great opportunity that only comes once, so I decided to grab that chance and do both things at the same time. After countless nights of staying late at the campus and juggling back and forth between the two projects, my team ultimately became the first winner and was given a prize to attend the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) Congress in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

The delegates of that event were mostly people from the business meeting industry around the world such as people from convention center, convention bureau and destination management company. During the Gala Dinner of the Congress, I met Jean-Michel the CEO of Luxexpo The Box at that time. Luxexpo The Box is an exhibition center in Luxembourg that hosts and organizes local and international events. We exchanged conversations which then followed by emails. Long story short, he offered me an internship position at his company for 3 months, all things covered! Flight tickets, accommodation, I even received monthly allowance! How did I get so lucky? To this day I still couldn’t believe it myself! I guess hard work does pay off. Another thing that I realized is that networking does wonders! I met the right person in the right place at the right time.

Well, Hello, Luxembourg!

Monument in Luxembourg. Photo by Keila Herawan.
Monument in Luxembourg. Photo by Keila Herawan.

So then came the time where I landed in Luxembourg. My first impression of the country was.. it is cold and gloomy. Perhaps because when I arrived there the weather wasn’t really nice and everyone on the flight were wearing either black or grey coat while I was the only one wearing white sweater. But soon that impression changed because I ended up loving the country and always wish I could go back there.

Many people might not be familiar with Luxembourg. Most of my friends who I told about it thought that it is a city in Germany, while in fact it is a small but very rich country in the middle of Belgium, France and Germany. I would say that it is some sort of the European version of Singapore. There are many expatriates in Luxembourg (mostly from other European Countries), in fact 47.9% of its populations are foreigners (data from Luxembourg government website as of 1 Jan 2018). French is the common language used by the people there, however due to its geographic location, the local Luxembourgers mostly speak four languages which are French, Luxembourgish, German and English. Although I only speak 2 languages (English and Bahasa Indonesia), I did not find it too difficult to get by since most of the people there are fluent in English as well. The only problem was perhaps when I went shopping or getting on a bus. If the cashier or bus driver started talking to me in French, I usually just said “Pardon, je ne parle pas français” (Sorry, I don’t speak French) and proceeded by using body language.

Life in Luxembourg

During my internship I lived in a three-story shared house in the area called Beggen. My housemates were all European but come from different countries. They come from Italy, Romania, Moldova, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Greece. Everyone came to work there. Some were permanently working while others were interns just like me. Although I was the only Asian there, everyone was very welcoming and we got along very well in a short amount of time. People called me baby Keila since I was the youngest of all (I was only 21 back then). As expected from one of the richest countries in the world, the living cost in Luxembourg is pretty high. On average, food cost around 7-15 euros per meal, that’s why my housemates and I usually cooked for dinner and sometimes made lunch box to bring to work. I could only cook simple stuff though, like instant rice (since there was no rice cooker) with chicken, pasta or all time Indonesians favorite, Indomie!

Housemates in Luxembourg. Photo by Keila Herawan.
Housemates in Luxembourg. Photo by Keila Herawan.

Since everyone was working during the day, we usually hung out at night and during weekends. We cooked and had dinner together, sometimes had a movie session. And on weekends we either went out to the city centre or traveled to other cities/countries (that’s how small the country is, we could reach other countries just by driving an hour or two or even less). Unlike the busy city like Jakarta, there aren’t many sources of entertainment in Luxembourg. Shopping malls and shops close at 8pm on weekdays and close on Sunday. So most people usually just go to bar or pub to have a drink and hangout with friends. Sometimes I even just went out to explore the city by myself, going to the city landmarks and different parks.

To get around I mostly used public transportation which was bus. Monthly pass cost 25 euros and you can go anywhere within Luxembourg City. The bus stop was only few metres away from my house, so it was very convenient. The only problem with it was that the bus only operated until around midnight and there was pretty much no other option since taxi cost a fortune and there were no Uber, Grab, nor Gojek (how I wish!). One time my housemates and I went out and came back at around 2am. Since it was too expensive to take taxi, we decided to walk, thinking that it wouldn’t be that far (Luxembourg is a small country after all). Guess what? We ended up spending one hour walking to get home.

Before going to Luxembourg, I tried to look up if there is PPI there, so perhaps I would have fellow Indonesians’ support while living by myself in a far away land. Turned out there wasn’t. Unlike other European countries that has quite a number of Indonesian people, I couldn’t find any Indonesian society there. So, I had no choice but to brace myself to face a whole new environment alone. Although moving abroad by myself wasn’t something new to me (I moved to Malaysia to study completely alone), there was of course still some adjustments to make. Especially because Luxembourg is a totally different country compared to Indonesia, I desired a sense of belonging even more. As I said, most of the foreigners in Luxembourg were European. It was hard enough to find Asians, let alone Indonesians. Therefore, when I spotted an Asian during a get together at my roommate’s friend’s house, I got so excited that I just came up to him to express how excited and happy I was meeting another Asian. Not that I didn’t find it comfortable making friends with Europeans or anything, but I guess it is just a human nature to want to be in a group that is somewhat similar to you. And then surprise, surprise! One day I just suddenly bumped into an Indonesian family during a city fair. I said hi to them, exchanged few words before they offered to drive me back home. Apparently, there were around 100 Indonesians living in Luxembourg and I was so lucky to meet 3 of them!

Internship Experience

Springbreak Opening at The Box. Photo by Keila Herawan
Springbreak Opening at The Box. Photo by Keila Herawan

As for the internship itself, I was a Sales Intern at Luxexpo The Box. My job was mainly to do research on the ICCA Database to look for potential regional/international MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) events that could be held at Luxexpo The Box, Luxembourg. Apart from that I also did some research to look for potential exhibitors from surrounding countries like Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands for the upcoming event that the company was holding. Although I work a lot in front of the laptop, I also got the chance to see how a big event (mostly exhibitions and fairs) are being prepared from day one. From the venue setup and event preparations until the whole event execution. It was such a fun job to have and a fun company to be a part of. Having prior internship experiences in companies with hundreds of staff (Hilton Hotel and Aloft Hotel Kuala Lumpur), working at Luxexpo which has less than 50 staff was a breath of fresh air. I worked in a small team so it was easy to get to know each individual personally. As I said before, there are so many foreigners in Luxembourg and the same goes to my colleagues at work. It was probably 50:50 between the locals and the foreigners. The work culture is very relaxed and laid back. Just like my housemates, everyone at work was also very welcoming and helpful. We mostly got to know each other during lunch time, as we had lunch together at the office pantry. Everyone was very respectful and nice towards me. They tried to always include me in the conversation by talking in English, although they usually speak in French or Luxembourgish to each other. Even when some people speak in French, some other would translate the conversation to me so that I didn’t feel left out.

One major highlight from my internship experience in Luxembourg was when I was given the role to be the “Blummekand” or the “Flower Child” who hand out flower bouquet to the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg a.k.a The Queen of Luxembourg during a public event hosted by the company. The event was called Springbreak. It was some sort of a city fair, you might compare it with PRJ (Pekan Raya Jakarta) and the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg were scheduled to be present at the opening of the event. When my boss out of nowhere told me, “we’ve decided that you will be the one handing flower to the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg at the opening of Springbreak event”. My first response to my boss saying that was…”are you serious?!”. And yes apparently he was totally serious. On previous occasions, usually there is little girl who hands the Duchess flower bouquet, but as the Springbreak opening fell on Wednesday, no little girl was available and so I was chosen to replace them hahaha. On a serious note, I was told the reason that they chose me is to show that the company comprises a multicultural team and always open to new ideas and to people with different backgrounds. I was really nervous, I asked other people what is the do’s and the don’ts while giving the flower to the Grand Duchess. I was thinking to say “enchantée” (meaning: nice to meet you in French), but apparently it’s not appropriate to say it to the Grand Duchess. I was told to just give the flower and shake her hand, and that’s it.

When the time finally came I tried to calmly give the flower and offered my hand for a handshake. Surprisingly the Grand Duchess leaned in and kiss me on both cheeks! (read: cipika cipiki). The whole time it was happening all I could think of was whether it will be 2 or 3 times kisses on the cheeks–different part of Europe has different number of cheek kisses). But I just went with it and everything went well! We then took picture together with the other important people. It was such an honor for me to be in the same frame with the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. Such a memorable experience!

Farewell party with colleagues. Photo by Keila Herawan
Farewell party with colleagues. Photo by Keila Herawan

All in all my whole experience in Luxembourg was amazing! Probably the best three months of my life (not exaggerating). First, because the opportunity to go there came so unexpectedly. I never plan to do so and out of the blue got the very special offer. It was very unbelievable and surreal. I even only prepared everything in two weeks! Although I believe that it paid off my hard work hustling between two big projects in my last semester of university. Also, I realized that networking is such a great thing to do. You never know who you’ll meet and what crazy awesome thing you might get from it. Second, the 3-month experience has been very eye-opening and life-changing!Working in a fun company, visiting different places, meeting so many wonderful and lovely people, exchanging life perspectives, and making relationships with them that (I hope) will last forever! Definitely a memory that I’ll never forget!

 

 

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Keila Herawan
Keila is a Hotelier who currently works as a Sales Executive for a five star hotel in Bandung. She received her bachelor’s degree in International Hospitality Management from Sunway University-Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia. Her internship experiences include working at Hilton Hotel and Aloft Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Luxexpo The Box, Luxembourg. She is a foodie and an explorer who dreams of traveling the world to exchange stories and life perspectives in the hope that the world can be a better place for everyone. She can be reached at herawan.keila@gmail.com.