Breaking into the global hospitality industry can be challenging and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be! Fast Track USA makes realizing your dreams of an international career easier than ever before.
As part of this initiative, we spoke with Ana Leah, an experienced career advisor at the American Hotel Academy in Romania. In our interview, Ana talks about how the J-1 Visa program helps students grow professionally and personally and explains the value of working in a different culture, the skills students learn, and how these experiences shape their careers in hospitality.
Ana highlights practical benefits, from enhancing resumes to building global networks, and how the J-1 Visa program complements classroom learning with real-world experience. This advice is like gold for those eager to step into the exciting world of luxury hospitality through international training.
For more information about Fast Track, head over to the program’s homepage to find out everything you need to know to take the first steps towards your once in a lifetime training experience abroad.
From your perspective, what makes the J-1 Visa program an attractive option for hospitality students seeking international experience?
The J-1 Visa program’s most important benefit, in my experience, is the students’ personal and professional development. I can see a clear difference between students who complete this program and those who do not.
On one hand, their CV and career development is much more enhanced and relevant to the hospitality industry, thus they are more likely to secure a job after graduation and advance quickly in this industry.
On the other hand, the year that they spend in the USA is filled with experiences and challenges that help them get to know who they really are better, and shape their personalities. Students who are shy and keep everything inside become more outgoing; students who are impulsive become more mindful. I see students returning from the USA as more independent, more matured and with a better understanding of who they are and where they belong in the hospitality industry.
Of course, there are many more benefits to the program, just to mention a few which are most common in our students: establishing long lasting relationships and making friends for life, creating professional connections, having fun and traveling.
In which ways does the J-1 Visa program complement the formal education received at a hospitality school?
Students learn theory at school and a little bit of practice. During the J-1 Hospitality Programs students get to continue learning by doing. Many of our students reflect back to mention that in the USA internships they meet in reality the theory that they learn in the school. When theory meets reality it is a success in the students’ learning process.
How does the J-1 program experience contribute to a student's professional growth?
The first and most tangible contribution is to the student’s CV, where one can enter their experience. On top of the CV, are the skills learned and/or developed, by becoming better at what you know/do. Many interns created professional connections which helped them both during their internships by becoming their mentors, but also later in their careers, either by offering job search support or by recommending them.
International experience can help students develop professional skills such as problem solving, adaptability, teamwork, leadership, empathy, decision-making, critical thinking, creativity and initiative.
Can you discuss the long-term benefits that international training programs like the J-1 offer to students?
International experience includes traveling to and living in different countries, which can give you valuable life experiences. Living in a foreign country and having relationships with people from these countries can help you learn new cultures, values and languages and develop as an individual. If you work in another country for an extended period, employers might consider you a more attractive candidate when you apply for jobs back in your country of residence.
How does the school assist students in securing J-1 Visa opportunities?
The school works closely with ITN to facilitate students’ access to U.S internships, according to their needs, skills and career level. Having an exclusive partnership with ITN was the best way to ensure that our students have access to personalized placements, great internship experiences and a smooth placement process.
What type of support and guidance does the school provide to students during the application process for the J-1 Visa?
The School gathers internship offers, informs the students, organizes recruitment events in close cooperation with ITN, and supports both the students and ITN with all the necessary documents required by the students and the visa sponsor. The School offers ongoing guidance and support to the students and has a proactive attitude in regards to placements.
Could you share some success stories of students who have gone through the J-1 Visa program and how it has shaped their careers?
Success can mean different things for different people. For some of our students and graduates success refers to landing a good job after graduation and quickly advancing in their careers. For other students and graduates success means having cultural and life experiences along with improving their professional skills or simply to travel and make life-long friendships. These are all achieved after a J-1 Visa program.
The most important success story that reflects on all our students and graduates that have participated in a J-1 Visa program is that they came out of this experience stronger, more independent and proactive in their lives. This attitude and personal development also reflected in their careers, where they could create relationships with people from different cultural, socio-economic and professional backgrounds, create healthy relationships and solid careers.
What are the most important skills that students should develop before participating in the J-1 Visa program?
Some of the most important skills that students need to develop prior to their J-1 Visa program are hard skills such as communication skills (verbal, written, no-verbal, public speaking), conflict management and work ethics. Students also need to have the necessary knowledge and hard skills, including job skills, foreign languages and knowing industry specific platforms.
How does your school help students prepare for the cultural and professional differences they might encounter in the U.S.?
The School ensures that the students gain the necessary skills by organizing personal development workshops, courses that address operations in hospitality (F&B services, Front Office operations, Housekeeping and Culinary skills) and organizes a 5-months mandatory internship in Europe prior to their applications for the J-1 Visa program.
What are some common challenges students face when participating in the J-1 Visa program, and how can they prepare for these challenges?
With an international internship on their resume, students prove that they accept and embrace unique challenges and rise to the occasion. In our increasingly globalized industry, adapting to these challenges is one of the most desirable workplace traits. Common challenges include embracing the unknown, the difficulties that come up and adapting to the new reality and the cultural norms, managing life without parents, relatives or friends and applying theory that students learn to the real work environments.
How should students manage their expectations when it comes to living and working in a new country?
Living in a new country and adjusting to a new culture doesn’t mean that you must change your own customs and values, rather adapt to the local culture. Students can adapt more easily to a new culture by doing research on their destination before their departure, by setting a “bucket list” for the things they want to do and explore during their time there, such as what they want to see, eat, do and experience, by joining local groups, activities, events, or trips, by being open minded and asking questions and by surrounding themselves both with locals and with other international participants.
In what way does participating in the J-1 Visa program enhance a student’s employability upon graduation?
Students who participate in the J-1 Visa program have an enhanced CV and can easily obtain a job upon graduation. Having the 1-year program in their resume is similar to a business card saying that “not only I learned, but I also practiced what I learned and now I am very well prepared, and I know what to expect from my next job”.
How do employers view international experience, specifically from the U.S., when evaluating potential hires in the luxury hospitality industry?
Employers know that, due to the fact that students spend 1 year exploring and training in one department, they are better prepared to face the industry challenges because they managed to know and understand the department in which they trained. We have industry partners who told us that if we have graduates who completed J-1 Visa programs in the USA, they would like to have them working at their hotels.
What advice would you give to students considering applying for the J-1 Visa program?
Make the most of this experience, which is one in a lifetime! Have courage, dare to get outside of your comfort zone and trust your instincts, this is how you will move ahead, persevere and have life-changing experience in the USA internships.
Are there any resources or strategies you recommend to students to fully leverage the opportunities presented by a J-1 Visa experience?
I advise students to be serious in the placement process, interested and to do their research. Read all the terms and conditions of the placement carefully, take the process seriously and be prompt in answering all inquiries in a timely manner. Complete your CVs in a professional manner and highlight your achievements, make sure you impress recruiters by having a professional attitude and show your friendly personality – after all, this is the SMILE industry.
Want to add international hospitality experience to your CV early in your career? Fast Track USA makes it easy to find exclusive training placements abroad and obtain the visa you need to get there. Visit the Fast Track homepage today to apply for your dream internship overseas!