Beyond borders for Nicolas De Vallois, an IBBA student

Feb 24, 2023 -

Nicolas De Vallois, a 20-year-old student in his third year of the IBBA program at Ferrières, is completing a six-month internship in South Africa, in the Drakensberg. Having lived abroad with his family in Canada, Spain, and the Czech Republic, Nicolas is now exploring a continent he has only recently begun to discover. A year ago, the young globe-trotter heard about a partnership between his school and Esiweni Lodge, a boutique hotel in the Relais & Châteaux group. Eager to enhance his professional experience abroad, he seized the opportunity and took on the role of assistant manager in the heart of one of the world’s largest canyons.

1. Had you already had any professional experience abroad before coming to South Africa?

Apart from living abroad throughout my childhood, this is the first time I’ve worked abroad.

2. Are the employees local or Western?

The entire team is from South Africa and Zimbabwe. I am the only European apart from the French couple who bought the establishment in 2014.

3. Based on your recent observations in your position, what are the differences between managing a French team and a foreign team?

Coming from one of the best hotel schools in France, attention to detail was ingrained in me. Upon arriving here, I noticed that attention to detail was not part of the local habits. One of my daily challenges is to insist on this fact. The differences are mainly cultural. It must be understood that in Africa, things sometimes take more time. This is teaching me to adapt and become more patient in a position that requires excellence and rigor. Ultimately, this experience is pushing me to develop my resilience.

4. Does this experience abroad sometimes change the way you see things?

This internship allows me to interact with people from very different socio-cultural backgrounds. I have always enjoyed cultural diversity. But above all, I am really becoming aware of how lucky I am to be studying in this way. The opportunities and chances are not the same for everyone.

5. How does this experience take you out of your comfort zone?

I step out of my comfort zone every day. It must be understood that behind the idyllic picture of this magical place, we live cut off from the world, in a bubble for weeks on end. This requires great inner strength to keep going. I love interacting with clients and fortunately, I thrive on these exchanges. Overall, all clients are happy to be there and delighted to meet a young Frenchman on site. I also have an anecdote that comes to mind. At the age of 20, I had to give “marital advice” to a couple in crisis!

6. Do you think living abroad is necessary to understand and master hospitality jobs?

This profession is a service-oriented job, so yes, it is absolutely necessary to go abroad to better understand the expectations of others, especially if we do not share the same culture or way of life. Learning to know people in their differences helps to better understand human beings in general. It is necessary to be even more tolerant to always show kindness, especially in the hospitality industry.

7. Has this experience awakened in you the ambition for new projects?

This experience allows me to define my professional project more concretely. I now know that I do not see myself working in a hotel so isolated from the rest of the world. I love the luxury and 5-star service aspect, but in a context where social ties and interactions with the outside world are more developed.