After an internship in Grignan, in the south of France, followed by another one in Tahiti, Rachael Henley took on another huge challenge for her 3rd year Vatel internship: she decided to go to Rwanda to the Hotel des Mille Collines by Kempinski, where just a few months later, management offered her her first job.
Where are you from and why did you decide to come to France to attend Vatel?
I was born in Northampton, a city in the English Midlands. I moved to France when I was 18 to improve my French language skills and to immerse myself in French culture, something I’d always loved. Already at that time, I was attracted by jobs as a hostess, in hospitality and in guest relations. When I learned about Vatel in France and understood its educational methods based on a mixture of theoretical courses followed by practical application work, the only thing I wanted to do was to be admitted to this School.
What is your best memory about the three years you spent at Vatel?
I would say that the Vatel spirit is alive in every person in the faculty members and administrative staff. We’re really like their children. They protect us while forcing us to do our very best, in order to teach us to be very demanding with ourselves. At Vatel, you improve your skills while developing a new mind-set.
How did Vatel respond to your needs and expectations?
Before starting school at Vatel, you would think that having theory followed by practical application of it sounds like a good educational concept to learn and understand a job. And then when you do it every week, you say to yourself that it’s really the key to everything. And last but not least, when you start an internship, with results to show to your manager, then you’re really sure that it’s the best educational concept of all, for those who want to have a career in the international hospitality industry. When you go to Vatel, you don’t have to wait for an internship to understand how the various departments in a hotel fit in together, and how they have to all communicate with each other. You apply what you learned in the courses right away, and that way, any concept that was maybe a bit difficult or hard to understand, becomes much more tangible.
Tell us about your internships and what you learned from them.
I worked for four months in the F&B department in the Manoir de la Roseraie, Chateaux & Hotels Collection in Grignan, France, in my first year. In your second year, Vatel has you do an international internship. So, for five months, I was the Assistant Banquet Manager at the InterContinental Resort & Spa in Tahiti. I didn’t choose this internship, in spite of what you may think, for its “tropical paradise” dimension, but rather to gain experience in another category of hotels, those that are also Resorts. I learned a lot from both of these internships, as they were very different. A small luxury hotel in the South of France isn’t managed the same way as a huge resort in the Tropics that belongs to a world leader in hospitality. I don’t even think that I would have had enough ambition to even think of applying for a final internship like this, had I not had two very good internships before, where I learned a lot.
Exactly. And for you last year, you decided to go to the Kempinski Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. Quite a challenge for a young lady to go to a country that is still being bombed regularly. Why did you choose this country?
Before deciding upon Rwanda, I had chosen the Kempinski Hotels as I feel that we share the same values, which always promote human aspects in this kind of job. Then came Africa, because its a country that’s growing quickly and the hospitality industry has a bright future in store. Kempinski understood this, and because of this, has opened many hotels in Africa. I wanted to be a part of this adventure and support them in opening one of their new hotels. Because I’m bilingual, Rwanda seemed like a good choice to me. So I challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone and discover a country full of history and multi-colored cultures.
I think that today, if you want to succeed in life, sometimes you have to really push yourself, and that’s something I learned at Vatel. Deciding to go to Rwanda was the best decision. I fell in love with this country and its inhabitants: their natural generosity and good natures are remarkable. It’s unbelievable how they fight to overturn the trauma of the genocide that they lived through in 1994, which is only 20 years ago. They communicate this strength to others.
And you rose to this challenge brilliantly, as management congratulated you for the way you welcomed their VIP guests as well as the projects you presented to them.
I’m the Assistant Restaurant Manager. I take care of breakfast, business lunches and Sunday brunch. Of course, there’s all the preparation involved before and after, with the other teams. And my managers did congratulate me on my work, in particular how I dealt with the VIP, the Kempinski Group President, when he recently came to Kigali.
At the same time, I presented several projects to hotel managers. One of them called “Shooting Star of the Month” is about restructuring the program valuing hotel employees. It was very successful.
When we listen to you, we realize how important it is to appreciate all the work others do and that mutual assistance is one of your values also, one that you apply each day.
Exactly. I incidentally adopted a little puppy here in Rwanda, because they poison them if they see them running free in the streets. When I saw him and realized that he would be killed if I didn’t take him back home, I didn’t hesitate a bit. And today he supports me with all his love, when I come back home after working hard all day.
Do you think that you will be offers a job at Kempinski?
I’ve still got a few months left in my internship, but hotel management has already informed me that they’d like to keep me as a team member in administration. I’d really like to stay longer, because, even though life here can be hard at times, I’ve grown close to my team members, this country, and I love my job. And though I sometimes miss the material comfort that I took for granted before, I’m used to being less materialistic. I’ve still got lots of great experiences to live in this hotel and the Kempinski Group Hotels in Africa.
I’d like to encourage other students to come to Africa for their internships, and Vateliens to think about working here. This is an astonishing continent that will change your lives. Personally, coming to Rwanda was the best decision I ever made.