Laura in her Kalahari uniform sharing her Trainee program experience with a group of new applicants

Laura knows hospitality, she grew up with it.  As a little girl in Johannesburg, South Africa, she often heard her grandmother quote the bible verse “Do not neglect to show hospitality, because through it others dined with angels.”  She also knows education, both of her parents were academics.  Yet Laura found herself drawn to the hospitality industry.  “Education was a very important part of my life,” Laura explains, “I speak 16 different African languages, but I chose hospitality because it is my passion to serve people and create memories and great experiences for them.”  Her respect for education and her love of hospitality were a perfect pairing for Damelin College, where she studied Hotel Management.

Her Trainee program took her to Pennsylvania, to the Kalahari resort.  “Being an African in an African themed resort was the perfect platform to showcase my culture to the many people who visit the resort.”  It was also the perfect opportunity for Laura to live another favorite quote, this one from the Bantu language: “I am because we are.”  She grew personally and professionally because of her relationships with the other people around her, everyone contributing to each other, sharing different ideas, learning from one another.  “I learned a lot about the USA culture, and I made lots of friends.  This experience changed my life.”

Laura started her career by training abroad through the J-1 Cultural Exchange visa program, gaining experience in everything from front desk to reservations to housekeeping.  When she returned home, she qualified for a position with a five star hotel, one that was voted Best Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg in 2018!  She started first as House Manager and is now the Rooms Division Manager.  In her new role, Laura has traveled to Mauritius with the hotel ownership for an inspection of a different property.  She’s an avid traveler, working and traveling go together for her just as learning and hospitality do.  While in the States Laura didn’t just work, she traveled across the US from New York to LA, DC to Dallas, visiting many of the big named cities.  “Traveling is another one of my passions,” she explains, so it was only natural that she travel as much as she could while she was abroad.

Laura recently accepted an invitation to serve as Alliance Abroad Group’s Alumni Ambassador representing South Africa.  In her role as an Alumni Ambassador, Laura will continue to share stories about her Cultural Exchange experience and inspire other candidates throughout South Africa to pursue Cultural Exchange opportunities.  Asked if she has any advice to offer others thinking about Cultural Exchange programs she says “This is the best decision you can ever make.  The Trainee Program catapulted my growth and opened doors for me I never knew existed.”  While she was abroad she missed her friends back home and the good African weather.  Now she finds that she misses her American friends and the mountain snow.  But she remains in touch with her Kalahari colleagues and even her program’s sponsor coordinator.  “She has a heart of gold, and in her I found a sister and a friend and everything I never expected to find so far away from home.”  That may be due to the fact that hospitality comes easy to Laura, she has a gift for making everyone feel at home.

Author: Theo Kitchen