Florida International University hospitality classes in China reset politeness policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Jun 23 14:40:06 UTC 2008

FIU hospitality classes in China reset polite policy

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, June 22, 2008

MIAMI — Lu Peng of Florida International University frequently travels
to China to teach students there the Western hotel and hospitality
business.  But he has a persistent problem.  "You have to get them to
stop bowing all the time," Lu says of Chinese hotel workers. "In
China, whenever anyone bows to you, you are expected to bow back. But
when the busy CEO of an international company has to bow 20 times
between his car and his room, he loses too much time. We have to teach
them that being too polite, overdoing it, is not a good thing."

Lu, 50, is a director of the China Program of FIU's School of
Hospitality and Tourism Management. When in China, he is based at a
new $50 million campus that the Chinese government built in the city
of Tianjin - 60 miles from Beijing - specifically so FIU can introduce
Western standards to the fast-growing Chinese hotel and restaurant
trades.Lu and his colleagues are taking South Florida hospitality
know-how and standards and using them to build what probably will be
the biggest hospitality industry in the world some day.  Palm Beach
County has supplied numerous students to the School of Hospitality and
at least one key instructor: chairman of the faculty, attorney and
hospitality industry law expert Elio Bellucci of Atlantis, who has
lectured to the Chinese instructors in Tianjin.

"The Chinese government chose us out of all the hospitality programs
at all the universities in the U.S.," says Joseph West, dean of FIU's
hospitality school.  We started small the first year with only 40
students, but we had 800 students enrolled this year," West says. "We
are the best school of hospitality in China. And now Thailand and
Vietnam have asked us to go there as well." Chinese officials
organizing the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer also came calling.
The FIU China program, which graduated its first students May 5, will
supply 540 volunteer students to the Olympic Village when the games
get under way in August. They mainly will staff dining halls where the
athletes will eat.

West says with international chains building scores of hotels all over
China, the demand for trained hospitality professionals is booming.

"The owner of the InterContinental Hotels, IHG, alone is building 200
hotels in China," says West. IHG also runs the Holiday Inn and Crowne
Plaza hotels.

Both he and Lu envision graduates from the FIU China program becoming
leaders in the industry throughout China for decades to come, as that
nation evolves into the world's busiest destination for both business
travelers and tourists.

The Chinese students work toward a bachelor of science degree in
hospitality, just like the one that U.S. students earn at FIU in
Florida. They take two years of basic liberal arts courses before
moving on to classes in their hospitality major: culinary arts, front
desk operation, hotel administration and finance, among others.

They must pass a rigorous exam in English before advancing to that second stage.

"Their first two years, the courses are taught in Chinese language,"
says West, "but the last two years are purely in English."

Tuition, which will rise this year, is equal to about $6,200 per year.
Since China has strict rules that limit most couples to only one
child, the parents have to finance only one college education, but
that still can be tough.

"The families are spending their life savings to send them to the
school," says West. "The parents and in some cases both sets of
grandparents are putting their money together. With the hospitality
industry growing the way it is, they see it as a golden opportunity to
get ahead."

West says the fact that so many of his students are single children
has led to problems in the dormitory setting.

"Many of them are very spoiled, used to being the center of attention
in their families," says West. He says there have been some
disciplinary problems.

"And we have to spend time to teach them teamwork you need in the
hospitality industry," he says. "It doesn't come naturally to them."

With others who are not problematic in that way, there is an opposite
issue: too much politeness.

"In general, these are the politest people in the world," West says.
"They won't talk to you unless you talk to them, and that's a problem.
We're having to teach them to read what guests need by teaching them
how to read body language. They don't really have a service mentality.
They are very polite, but they don't know what to do."

Chinese professors trained at the FIU campus in north Miami-Dade teach
most of the courses.

"They spend a year to a year and a half here in Miami before they go
into the classroom in China," says West. "Here in Miami, they go to
school and they work part-time in the industry at local restaurants
and hotels. We don't let anyone teach in the program in Miami unless
they've worked in the industry, and it is the same for the professors
in China."

Some non-Chinese, Florida-based hospitality professors also go to
China to teach short courses. Assistant Professor Mohammad Qureshi,
originally from Pakistan, traveled to Tianjin in 2006 and 2007.

"At first, the students were a bit shy," Qureshi says. "They are
accustomed to just listening to professors, not asking questions. But
after a while, they opened up. They are also very shielded from the
outside world, and you end up teaching them some basic things about
the world."

For example, Qureshi found himself lecturing on the history of beer
and wine and telling the students about how these drinks had been
refined in Roman Catholic monasteries of the Middle Ages. Since few
Chinese students know much about religion, they were fascinated.

Some Western students at the Miami campus also have traveled in the
opposite direction and studied in the China program. They took the
same classes they would have taken in Miami, except their classmates
were all Chinese. The students traveled around China, including to
Tibet, before the recent political troubles there led China to close
the province.

In time, Lu, director of the FIU China program, has developed a vision.

He sees many thousands of Chinese students all across China wearing
T-shirts and sweat shirts that read, "FIU."

"I like that idea," says Lu. "I can see it."


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