Finding success outside of your comfort zone

Finding success outside of your comfort zone


PositionStudent at SHMS

SchoolSwiss Hotel Management School

ProgramMaster of Arts



master of arts, high honors, Leonie Demgenski

In the last few days of the fall semester at Swiss Hotel Management School, the Caux campus is a flurry of activity. Students are getting ready to leave on their internships, final exams are finishing up, and the winter farewell event is being set up in the Grand Hall. Master of Arts student Leonie Demgenski is one of the students about to depart the campus, but she graciously takes the time to share with us some of her experiences and reflections.

For Leonie, this is part of her final tour around the campus, saying goodbye to the staff and lecturers who have made this school her home away from home. She keeps a bright smile on her face, but her voice wavers a bit as she tells us how she could never have imagined her experience to have been as amazing as it turned out—from the friends she has made to the beauty of the study environment and the caring interactions with the staff. “I would do it all over again,” she says without hesitation.

Leonie’s journey into hospitality was perhaps as unexpected for her as it was for others around her, defined by her willingness to jump out of her comfort zone. As the middle child of five siblings, Leonie started in the hotel industry at the young age of 19, working for Hyatt in Dubai. While her siblings and parents work in other fields such as the military, banking, or start-ups, she wanted to carve her own space for her career, and the first step was taking that job in hospitality. “I got to try it all,” she says, thinking of the different hospitality sectors she experienced, including F&B and front desk services. The hours were extremely long sometimes, and she acknowledges that the industry is not for everyone, but she found that within hospitality was a fantastic opportunity for career growth. She even had the chance to study hospitality as an undergraduate for three years in Hamburg, finishing in 2017 before returning to work.

In the end, she found where she thrived. “Sales was the best,” she says. From building relationships with others to being able to travel the globe, the world of sales spoke to her. Besides English, she is fluent in French and German as well as some working knowledge of Arabic, Italian, Dutch, and Hebrew. Add the impressive language and communication skills to her fun demeanor and go-getter mindset, and it is no surprise that she became a senior manager in sales for Park Hyatt Dubai, the most luxurious brand for the hotel chain company. The most difficult aspect of the job was the constant solo travel, a challenging experience that constantly took her out of her comfort zone. Between conferences in major cities all over the world, to talking with people from different cultural backgrounds and varying sensibilities, she had to figure a lot out on her own.

After six years of managing sales for the luxury hotel brand, however, she knew she needed to take another step to progress her career. Shutting down any worry about studying in a foreign country or leaving a job in which she excelled and knew very well, Leonie began to search for hospitality graduate programs and came across the Master of Arts degree at SHMS. With the blessing of Hyatt, who allowed her to take a sabbatical from work to continue her studies, she made the trip to Switzerland in 2022 and joined the SHMS family in Caux Palace.

As we reminisce about her time here at SHMS, Leonie says, “SHMS was definitely better than expected, but tougher, too.” With so much to do and learn, students had to engage with their studies right away. “The program is excellent and we learn so much in a short amount of time,” she says. She specialized in luxury brands, one of three specializations that SHMS offers for the Master of Arts program. “I think I learned more in six months at SHMS than I did in three years in Hamburg,” she adds, referring to her undergraduate studies.

A big advantage for her was the interaction between students and staff, where teachers were so involved in the students’ learning—something she hadn’t experienced before, even during her undergraduate hospitality studies. The small class sizes allowed for deeper discussions during which personal guidance and advice were possible. At SHMS, everyone knows each other’s names, treating each other as friends and family. The campus is welcoming and safe, and a great place to make friends from all around the world.

When asked about specific lecturers who impacted her experience at SHMS, she had to start with Mr. Nektarios Lykopantis, the Master of Arts Program Manager who encouraged her to come study at SHMS despite Leonie’s initial reservations. He had suggested that she request the sabbatical to pursue her graduate degree. Leonie also gives a shoutout to Mr. Laszlo Kele for his guidance in hotel operations and for sharing his knowledge and giving her more confidence moving forward. Lastly, Leonie mentions Dr. Olesya Tomyuk and a project from her Modern Luxury Consumer class which analyzed consumer behavior for luxury brands. Leonie and her group did the project on Victoria’s Secret and the male customer journey, including conducting a study of how men feel or get confused about the online ordering process through Victoria’s Secret. Dr. Tomyuk offered valuable insights and encouraged them to seek real-world impact by publishing their report online and tagging the company to show real data for an often-overlooked consumer group.

Leonie feels lucky to have been accepted into SHMS, but the school is equally fortunate to count such a talented young individual as a student, and soon-to-be graduate. She still has her master’s thesis to write, which she plans to finish in June 2023 while back to work. Leonie's eyes light up when we ask about her thesis topic, in a way that reveals how the subject is personal to her. “Are hotels in the Middle East prepared for solo female travelers?” she says. “That’s what I want to answer with my thesis.” She references not just the safety of women who travel and stay in hotels, but also comfort and cultural considerations. In her own experience from traveling alone for work, she notes that small details can make a huge difference, from the receptionist not announcing a room number out loud during check-in to having good room service for when it might be unsafe or even looked down upon for women to go out into a city alone.

Leonie’s parting words for future SHMS students, or for people considering whether they should study hospitality: “Just do it. If you’re already looking up schools and you have the ability to do it, then do it. You know that you already want it subconsciously,” she says. “Get out of your comfort zone and do it.” She wishes her time on the SHMS campus was longer, but in the end, the connections she made and the memories of experiences she created here will carry her for a lifetime.

February 2024 update: Leonie graduated from Swiss Hotel Management School in the Master of Arts program with Distinction.

Master of Arts graduation, 2023, highest honors, hospitality school
Leonie (center) with Program Manager Nektarios Lykopantis (left) and Dr. Kamil Ometoso (right)

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