Connecting from across the Atlantic Ocean, Swiss Hotel Management School alum Monica Alexander shares her memories, passions, and journey through hospitality with us.
Talking to Monica Alexander, even for the first time, is like catching up with an old friend. A 2012 graduate of Swiss Hotel Management School in the Bachelor of Arts program in International Hospitality Management, she is excellent at having a relative stranger feel at ease with her presence—well, online presence in this case. Monica has lived and worked around the world in front desk, hotel services, and residence management from Dubai to the United States to India, and she now has a position with the JW Marriott Edmonton Ice District in Canada as of the 2023 new year.
Despite the time difference, Monica is gracious enough to wake up early in freezing Canadian weather to video chat with us in Switzerland about her memories as a student and what she has been up to since. We barely have to ask about what it was like to study at SHMS; Monica is full of stories that she warmly shares with a big smile on her face.
Monica Alexander started her hospitality journey on the Leysin campus with the Hospitality Foundation Program, which SHMS offers to incoming students who prefer to have time to settle into living and studying in Switzerland before officially beginning their bachelor courses. “My first event was during the Foundation Program, in Leysin. I think it was a Chinese theme,” she says, but adds that her favorite event had to be a concept restaurant where they had a Greek gods theme. She helped with operations and marketing, going out to find corporate sponsors, and was part of the entertainment team during the live event. “I was a Muse,” she laughs, and she confirms that she did indeed perform live with her teammates.
She then went to the Caux campus for the first few years of her bachelor’s studies. “I had a room with a balcony facing the lake—Geneva Lake—and the mountains. I was in the same room the whole time I was at Caux…I can never get tired of that view!”
Monica admits that before coming to SHMS, she was not a particularly academically-driven student. She had looked for an educational style that would bring out the best in her. She ended up passing classes with honors merit at SHMS, in large part because of the style of teaching that SHMS employs. “Maybe it has something to do with learning what you love, but also having the practical classes in learning is so helpful,” she explains. “It’s true that people learn in diverse ways, and when you do something for real, it stays with you. You cannot forget it.”
We asked about the bachelor’s program classes that she enjoyed. “I really love learning French. That was in Caux.” Although, laughing, she does admit that while she can still read and write in French, she wishes to study it again to gain more confidence in verbal conversations. One field of study she feels that she missed out on is in marketing and social media, now part of the curriculum for all bachelor’s program students. “Nowadays, I see the students making all these amazing posts on Instagram and everywhere for the events. Back when I was at SHMS, we barely had Facebook and it was all so new…I wish I got to learn that, too. They are really making amazing videos and everything.” That said, she had her fair share of enjoyable practical classes. She adds that learning how to work at a high-end French restaurant was a particularly memorable experience. “It was really challenging, but I really loved it,” she explains.
In fact, it was Monica’s culinary interests that first sparked her journey into hospitality, and a wise suggestion by her father. “He saw how much I liked helping people…(he) told me that there was so much more than working in in a restaurant and serving people in different ways, beyond food,” she explains. It sparked research into higher education in hospitality, where Monica found her true calling. After earning her bachelor’s degree and working for a few years, including a rough patch through COVID-19, Monica shares one of her more interesting jobs working in a boutique hotel called the Irish Cottage Inn at a small town about three hours outside of Chicago, Illinois in the United States. From there, she spent time working in Dubai, then India, before she moved to Edmonton, Canada.
About her new job with the JW Marriott, Monica was so animated when telling us about her interview experience and how excited the hotel was to see that she was a graduate of SHMS. “They knew SHMS very well,” she says, and adds that she looks forward to meeting several others at the JW Marriott who had studied in Switzerland. Graduates and practitioners of Swiss hospitality can truly be found in every corner of the world.
She stays connected with many classmates, mostly through LinkedIn. “Everyone is doing so well, I see them doing amazing things everywhere,” she acknowledges. “I have so many amazing memories that I love to talk about to everyone, even today.” As our video chat nears its end, on the hour, her smile radiates through the screen. Even though she doesn’t say more, one can practically see her fondly thinking of her time at SHMS. Monica looks forward to returning to Switzerland for a visit sometime not too far in the future.