How my international experience working at a Holiday Inn hotel changed my life? 

The year 2009. There was nothing special about that winter: cold, windy, snowing every second day, long scary icicles hanging from the edges of tall buildings, and snowmen in the yards where kids came to play. It gets dark fast, leaving you no time to daydream; for to dream, you need some light that gives you hope. 

Every evening I spent in front of the grey Vaio laptop reading about photography, looking through creative photos of master photographers, and having green tea with honey and lemon. That was my way of generating light in my life that felt frozen in time. The same daily routine:

  • Going to work and squeezing through thousands of people while trying to catch a subway train.
  • Doing a merchandiser job on an auto-mode at a big grocery store.
  • Going back home the regular route.

I have been doing the same job for different companies since I graduated from the University. It’s been almost three years, and I was getting more frustrated with every new day. I felt like I live in a little bubble of closed-minded ideas, and real life is passing by somewhere far away from me. “Is this all I am capable of doing? How long will I be going to the same job? Is there some other job for me?” And typically, this kind of monologue ended with the same phrase: “I want to change my life!” but I didn’t know how to do that or where to start. 

Working as a merchandiser in a big store (similar to Walmart) was never my intention but I had to start somewhere.

The central part of every adult’s life is work. The lucky ones do what they love, which doesn’t feel like a job. Unfortunately, back then, I wasn’t one of them. Photography was still a hobby, and my diploma with a master’s degree in art felt useless, and I kept it somewhere between piles of white paper filled with handwritten words.

Having little life experience (I was 26 y.o.) I didn’t know what to do to change my life. So, I guessed that finding a new job might be a solution. Writing a resume I didn’t hide my limited job experience, but I also highlighted that I speak fluent English, which seemed to be my only advantage. I was sure the knowledge of a foreign language would help me get a better job where I could constantly grow and upgrade my professional level. Having international experience or traveling hasn’t been my primary goal in my search for a job, but I always included that possibility. 

I emailed several companies that offered jobs at cruise lines like Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. During one of the interviews, the HR said: “Sorry, but we require an experience in every position you applied for.” I heard that phrase many times, and I got used to the feeling of temporal discouragement that follows it. Nevertheless, I insisted on pursuing a new job because my desire to change my life was stronger than the obstacles I bumped into on my way. And as in the quote by Sophocles, “Look, and you will find it – what is unsought will go undetected.” I was looking for an opportunity, and I found it.

My cultural international experience in Holiday Inn IHG.

Following my friend’s recommendation, I went for an interview at the hotel Holiday Inn (IHG brand) in Saint Petersburg, where I lived. I was offered a position as a front desk receptionist, working a night shift. Being introverted, I thought this would allow me to practice my English, work at a hotel, and learn about the hospitality business with less customer interaction than during the day shift. So, I accepted the job offer. 

At the end of the first week, my excitement turned into frustration.

My probationary period was a month, and I had to work during the day. Holiday Inn in Saint Petersburg is a seventeen-floor hotel with excellent facilities for international conferences and is located five minutes from downtown. That being said, it was always busy, with hundreds of guests checking in and out, ordering transportation, asking myriads of questions on the phone, and standing in front of the reception desk. Sometimes coming back home after such intense new work, I cried. And when the emotional overload was too much, and I needed a friendly shoulder, I called my best friend. “It’s just too much for me! I can’t take it anymore; I can’t process all the new information at a pace that is required; I thought I knew English… but you know, every time I answer the phone or talk to a guest it feels like my mouth is not willing to pronounce English sounds, I am just afraid to speak English, and I feel horrible! Moreover, I guess I don’t know how to communicate with people, every question makes me want to hide, and as a result, I answer super quietly. Maybe I am not suited for this job, and I overestimated my abilities?!” – I complained to her. And as a good friend, she always listened to me without interrupting, but I knew that at some point, I would have to stop complaining and accept the challenge. And the first step was to relax (which was also the most difficult!) Second – learn new information I needed for my work, and third, practice feeling uncomfortable because it’s absolutely “okay” and is an essential step to mastery. 

Working at Holiday Inn was also a fun experience. Photo on the left – me with my colleagues-friends.

Before my international experience at Holiday Inn (“IGH brand”), I never perceived myself as a brave person, and I always struggled with low self-esteem. However, underneath those layers of frustration, I wanted to keep this job because it offered a different level of involvement in life. It was more meaningful; I was directly helping people and could instantly see the result. 

Work at hotel Holiday Inn changed my life. 

Working at the hotel’s front desk and concierge is like being on stage; you are constantly exposed to the public, and anyone can ask you a question and expect to get a meaningful answer. I enjoyed working at Holiday Inn, and it became a gentle communication medicine for my introverted spirit. I discovered I liked being surrounded by people and enjoyed talking, listening, and searching for solutions. 

I worked at the Holiday Inn for four years, and the first was the most difficult. I had to face several of my biggest fears and insecurities. 

Let me name some of them:

  • I didn’t feel comfortable talking on the phone with guests, and I was speaking very softly, 
  • I was afraid of being responsible for handling money transactions (at check-in and check-out)
  • The culture of polite and helpful communication was something new for me
  • I didn’t feel confident speaking in English (though I had been learning it since I was five years old)
  • I was afraid of making mistakes and guest complaints; thus, I assumed I was striving to be 100% perfect. 

What helped me? 

  • Communication with colleagues and hundreds of new people daily
  • My open-mindedness
  • International experience: meeting and talking to people from all over the world
  • Being eager to learn

On October 2, 2013, I left my work at Holiday Inn (IGH Brand) in Saint Petersburg. Two days after that, I was on a plane to Barcelona, which was the first stop on my one-way-ticket route leading to Cancun, Mexico. That adventurous trip resulted in nine years of living in Mexico, building a photography business in a foreign country, and learning Spanish. I wrote about it in the article “How traveling solo with a one-way ticket changed my life?” 

All that became possible after my open-minding, international experience working at the hotel, where I met many interesting people from different countries. I realized there are beautiful opportunities beyond the border, not only physical ones between countries but also mental ones that exist inside my mind in the form of fear.

What I learned working at the hotel:

  • As with every other business, 100% satisfaction is impossible in the hotel industry. No matter how hard you try, there will be guests who will be dissatisfied with the service. The best solution is to try and do the best you can and feel peace with things you can’t control. 
  • It was excellent physiological training. I learned a lot about human behavior and managing expectations. 
  • At a certain moment, phrases like: “Do you know who I am?!”, “I will fire you all,” “I want to talk to a manager,” and reviews on TripAdvisor stopped scaring me. 
  • Even with an angry guest, there is a way to solve their frustration. Sometimes people have a terrible day, complications at work, a bad flight, or something else that puts them in a bad mood. It’s never personal. 
  • Kindness and gentle communication can open many doors. 

I can’t imagine my life without a chapter called “My work at hotel Holiday Inn in Saint Petersburg.” Many years later, I still remember it with some degree of warmth and gratitude. Though sometimes it felt like a big challenge, I learned a lot, which matters most. 

When you are afraid, go out there in the big world. You will only know what you are capable of when you try. Hiding and postponing only generate more fear. 

You become brave by doing and acting despite the fear. And the last one – when the Universe gives you a tough cookie take it and use it as a chance to become braver. 

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