In spring 2015, a nervous Kudzaishe (Trevor) Chikawa (B.P.S. '16) sat down at a desk across from Andrea Papitto, director of trade relations and communications for the Africa Travel Association (ATA). He was there to interview her for his Hospitality 101 course project.
"Take a deep breath and relax," Papitto told Chikawa, a hospitality management major at NYIT's Manhattan campus. Her words eased his anxiety. He was also glad he followed the advice of Associate Professor Robert Koenig, Ed.D., who teaches the course, by doing advance research on Papitto prior to the interview. Chikawa credits that level of preparedness with winning her over during their meeting.
Papitto was so impressed that she offered him an ATA internship on the spot. Chikawa, who was unaware of the internship prior to their meeting, accepted it then and there. The internship entailed planning and attending the ATA's 40th Annual World Congress in Nairobi, Kenya.
One of the most important things Chikawa learned from attending the congress was what it means to navigate a gamut of personalities in a different cultural setting.
"In class you often learn about hospitality as it pertains to Western sensibilities," said Chikawa. "Culturally, Africa is different. There is more of an emphasis on respecting your elders, and status is important."
Prior to departing for Africa to attend the ATA congress in November 2015, Chikawa performed most of his internship duties from New York. His day-to-day responsibilities included updating social media accounts and doing event planning and mass mailings. ATA congresses are conferences that provide opportunities for Africa's tourism stakeholders to network and shape an agenda for their industry.
"I was shocked at how much work we were able to do," said Chikawa. "We only had seven staff members and three interns, and we were planning a conference for hundreds of people on another continent."
Despite the workload and short lead time, Chikawa thrived in the fast-paced atmosphere of event planning. Along the way, he also gained a new understanding of himself.
"The experience was life-changing for me," Chikawa reflected. "The conference was intense, and I grew close to my team as a result. Before this internship, I often felt I was better off working by myself. Thinking back on it all, I am now able to see the value in teamwork and how important it is in accomplishing something big."
The congress was by no means all work and no play. Chikawa and fellow colleagues took advantage of the sites and culture of Nairobi, such as perusing local markets.
"ATA staffers trusted us as interns and treated us more like family," said Chikawa.
The internship also fulfilled Chikawa's interest in working in the tourism industry in Africa. He was born in Zimbabwe and educated in Beijing, China. After starting his college career in California, Chikawa wanted a change and transferred to NYIT in spring 2015 to enroll in the hospitality management program. He was drawn by city life and NYIT's small classes, which afforded more one-on-one attention from faculty members.
"Dr. Koenig says I need to make my own opportunities," said Chikawa. "No one is going to do it for me. This program has pushed me to make my own experiences. It verified for me that I made the right choice in coming to NYIT."
Since traveling to Nairobi, Chikawa has broadened his ambitions. He imagines a career path dedicated to improving tourism for all of Africa.
"The opportunities are endless, and I can't wait to go back," said Chikawa.