When in Rome

May 1, 2021
Topaz Smith

For some, the idea of travel consists of comfortable hotels, accommodating tour guides, and getting to know different cultures. But for Hospitality and Tourism Management student Topaz Smith ’14, traveling means education through cultural immersion.

Last spring, through a connection with Claudia Green, PhD, director of the hospitality and tourism program at Pace, Smith interned at Le Sirenuse, a luxury boutique hotel in Positano, located on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. As a front desk intern, she operated the hotel’s switchboard, took reservations, and handled reception, clients, and more. She also helped host high-profile guests like CEOs and celebrities.

This unique internship gave her a hands-on opportunity to learn Italian hotel business, as well as Italian language and culture as a whole. “I worked in a different language from my native, which was nothing short of motivational because of the challenge,” she says. “Everything was Italian. I worked in Italian, lived in an Italian village. I got infused in the culture; I had to speak Italian on a daily basis.”

Although Smith wasn’t fluent in the language before her trip, attending an international high school afforded her the opportunity to study Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Japanese, as well as gain a passion for travel at a young age. Ultimately, her interest in culture is what prompted her to go after an internship in a foreign language.

But she says taking a couple of Italian courses at Pace prepared her for the experience, as well as studying in Rome for a semester at John Cabot University during the fall before her internship. “That helped me understand the Italian culture and how to engage in conversation with locals and foreigners. [From] the customer service aspect, you need that on a daily basis. You need to be able to converse with people from different backgrounds and cultures,” she says.

Since returning to the states, Smith has been getting a taste of American hotel business through two internships. One at Gild Hall, a Thompson Hotel near Pace, as a room division intern, which involves rotating between the front desk, housekeeping, and executive sales departments to learn the ins-and-outs of the industry. She acquired this position by taking initiative after the general manager of the hotel visited her management class and gave her his card.

Her second internship is at FoodForce, a boutique food industry staffing agency, as a marketing and social media intern. Instead of simply taking marketing classes at Pace, Smith wanted an experience-based understanding of the industry, so she sought out a marketing internship through the Career Services’ eRecruiting website. “I’m just trying to get as much experience as I can before graduation,” she says.

While she might be enjoying home, sweet home, Smith recently completed another big overseas adventure: traveling to southern Brazil with Professor Green and the International Management Field Study class over spring break to study Brazil’s sustainability in tourism and business, update the green map, interview locals on their feelings toward the 2016 Olympics, and more. “As people travel more, they may damage places. People can travel, but also keep the world’s natural resources intact,” she says.

But of all her worldly travels and opportunities, she thanks Pace for making them happen. “I tell people that I lived in Italy for seven months and they’re amazed that I’m still in college. I feel that Pace is a school that prepares its students. I’m really glad I took advantage of all the opportunities it afforded me.”