The Truth About Attending a Hospitality Management University in Switzerland
Have you ever heard of the hospitality university École hoteliere de Lausanne (EHL)?
Chances are that if you are within the hospitality industry, this name will more often than not ring a bell to your ears.
If you haven’t, then you are missing out on an extensive network of hospitality professionals spread out in every country, and of an extremely competent web multi-cultural, bi-lingual students who are actively looking for internships around the world every year.
Seriously though, ranked as the number one hospitality management university in the world, EHL boasts years of tradition and expertise that date back to 1893 (that is 125 years of knowledge!).
All this of course while being located in the epicenter of the birth of hospitality: Switzerland.
The recruitment process, of course, is extensive and selective, weeding out those who do not match up to the university’s high standards. Those few who are able to get in don’t take look to perceive the extraordinarily unique journey they have just embarked.
For the sake of logistics, this post will solely focus on what students who attend a hospitality university go through in their first semester (hint: it is different from ANYTHING you’ve ever seen).
As Maria from ‘The Sound of Music’ would say: ‘’lets start from the very beginning, a very good place to start’’
So put on your Chef’s hat, grab your knife case, and come with me!
How does the EHL Preparatory Year work?
EHL is a public school for the Swiss-born.
In other words, those who are lucky enough to withhold a Swiss passport do not need to pay the full fees for this university. However, for the rest of us mere mortals, we have to deal with a price that I myself like to call an investment!
The school basically works as a hotel, withholding all of a hotels sectors and facilities such as bars, restaurants (from fast food to fine dining), stewarding, kitchens (where some of the Chefs whom we work with have been bestowed with the MOF award – Meilleur Ouvrier de France); laundry; housekeeping; banqueting, etc.
The genius part? It is all operated by the students during the entirety of their first semester (under the eye of our teachers/supervisors).
What happens is that during our very first week at EHL, we are assorted into teams. There are over 30 teams, with about 12 students on each of them. These will be your co-workers within the next 6 months, whether you like it or not. Therefore, this teaches you how to deal with groups of people with different backgrounds than yours, people with different cultures, habits…
This, of course, gives you people skills that are fundamental in order to succeed within the hospitality industry: You learn to be understanding, compassionate, reasonable and, most of all, respectful.
Just so you have an idea, I am Brazilian and in my team we had Philpinos, French, Swiss, Americans, Vietnams; Greek and German (ah yes, and ALL of us had dual nationality – 2 passports – and spoke at least 3 languages).
Starting to understand just how interesting studying in a hospitality university can be?
Every week, each team will be assorted into different sectors of the school/”hotel”. In a way, everything we do, i.e., in the kitchen, will be ultimately sold in the school’s Food Court.
- If we need someone to peel carrots, cut onions, clean lettuces, then team 1 will do it;
- If we need someone to cook these ingredients in order to prepare a meal, team 2 will be in charge of cooking it.
- When the food is ready to be sold, we ultimately need someone to sell the food at the cashier…
You probably get the point now, right? Can you now see the intelligence of EHL’s teaching methods?
Every week, these teams alternate in jobs. This means that the team that was cleaning toilets one week will also have a chance to work in the Fine Dining restaurant the following week, and vice versa.
Students’ Responsibilities Varied From:
- Housekeeping – And yes, I really do mean we cleaned the toilets and changed the linens of every room in Campus);
- Stewarding – Where we washed thousands of dishes, pans, and as well as endless polishing;
- Fast Food kitchen + service
- Fine dining kitchen + service
- General kitchen (dessert, bakery, production; etc)
- Servicing 3 bars located inside the university
- Banqueting – Attention to details
- Breakfast service
- Food court service + cleaning
Carrying the EHL name is not an easy job, and sometimes work can be very demanding, working long shifts that can go up to 10 hours straight, sometimes finishing your shift over midnight. Just like a real hotel.
The catch is that all this is done within a university (meaning, you are not exactly getting paid to do all that, quite the contrary).
Don’t get me wrong, it is amazing and I am truly a fan of their method, or I would not be writing this post as an extremely proud alumnus
(note: I did not get paid to write this post, nor did they ever ask me to write it. This is all coming from the heart, and if you are ever lucky to meet anyone else that has graduated in EHL I can guarantee you they will say the exact same thing as I have written in this entire post).
However, trust me that not everyone enjoys this first semester and truth be told, the first year is when we have the biggest amount of dropouts.
Those who are strong and passionate enough to stay, endure 3 more arduous years of studies (from micro and macroeconomics, to corporate strategy and real estate finance). Furthermore, those who stay also leave as top experts within the hospitality industry.
It is true that some days can be very (VERY) draining, especially with all the extra school activities that you can (and should) participate, such as committees, sporting events, campus tours, guest lectures, language courses…
Additionally, the EHL social life is quite remarkable. Students eventually learn that it IS possible to go out and have some drinks with friends, and still be wearing a suit and on time the next day (Swiss time, meaning always 5min earlier to your actual schedule).
If you are familiar with the hospitality industry, you will probably agree with me that you have to be social to succeed. This means that you will never find a student in EHL who is shy or who would not want to show you around and take good care of you.
Hospitality is all about how you handle people, how you manage service and how you impress your clients.
Yes, EHL does an excellent job in preparing you to be social and courteous, while enduring extremely long work hours and stress in an international ambiance, all the while teaching you to always being on time and well presented.
I’ve said this many times, but I am completely in love with the hospitality industry. Hospitality is made for me, and I am made for hospitality.
After all this arduous work during an entire semester, we find ourselves facing a new challenge: The University requires us to have a 6-month internship to implement the skills we’d learned during the preparatory year.
The fun part? It can be ANYWHERE in the world.
If you know a bit of my story at all, you probably know that I chose to go to THAILAND.
But that is a different chapter.
I hope you liked learning more about my hospitality university and how École hôtèliere de Lausanne operates. Are you thinking on joining a hotel university? Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions!
- EHL | Awards Won
- My amazing experience swimming with planktons inside a cave in Thailand (internship)