Independent Public Mission Schools

FDU: From the Alps to the Vineyards – Hospitality and Tourism Students Travel Abroad

FDU travelers take in the sweeping views from atop Mount Titlis in Switzerland. Photo courtesy of FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism

In alpine Switzerland and northern Italy, Fairleigh Dickinson University students experience European hospitality and tourism firsthand for nine days each spring.

Engelberg. Lucerne. Neuchâtel. Gruyères. Lugano. Interlaken. Bern. Baar. Zürich.

Reggio Emilia. Florence. Parma. Bologna.

These are all cities and towns that the students visit, depending which trip they select: Switzerland, for those interested in hotel and tourism, or Italy, for those interested in food and beverage.

“This trip helped me realize I’m not afraid of change,” says senior Annie Kwon of Pasadena, Calif, who traveled to Italy. “I have learned how to be independent, be open to new things, find new interests and build my confidence. I can only think of the amazing memories.”

When Aixa Ritz, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, and the seminar coordinator since 1999, started running the trip, she realized it was much more effective just to visit one country for the week and immerse the students in one culture.

To read more stories about FDU, scroll down:

Big Dig: Professor Preserves Rock Art, an ‘Archaeological Treasure,’ in Oman
Vancouver’s Model UN Team Wins Third Award

“We select destinations with hotels owned and managed by the same person because they have a vested interest in us coming back. They become our partners,” says Ritz. Relationships with hotel owners in Switzerland date back to 1999, and in Italy to 2007.

“The experience gives them great perspective in terms of how to react when they have international guests [later on],” says Ritz. “They can empathize with them, and then provide the guests much better service.”

The European Seminar, a two-credit course, is a curriculum requirement for all undergraduate students majoring in hotel and restaurant management. It’s also optional and open to students pursuing a bachelor of arts and individualized studies with a specialization in hospitality management, and occasionally to graduate students in FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism (ISHTM).

“As pretty as all the pictures of Switzerland are, they don’t do the Alps justice,” says Kirsten Tripodi, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, who leads the Switzerland group. “When my son was little, watching him do something for the first time was like seeing it for the first time myself, and so it’s a privilege to get to take students on this trip and show them something so spectacular.”

This year, 18 students traveled to Italy and 17 to Switzerland with faculty guides.

“The biggest learning experience for me on this trip was seeing how upscale hotels in Switzerland are operated, and how they incorporate their superior hospitality and customer service skills into it all,” says Matthew Moore, a Florham Campus senior from Morristown, N.J., who went on the 2017 trip. “I would go back to Switzerland in heartbeat. I loved everything about the country.”

The Swiss trip begins in Engelberg, a small town nearly a mile above sea level and built around a monastery. The hosts at the independently-owned Hotel Edelweiss in Engelberg “are always on the floor entertaining and mingling with their guests. This is what going above and beyond in hospitality means,” says Metropolitan Campus senior Niska Perpignand of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. “I remember clearly [one of the hosts], said, ‘In hospitality, it has to come from the heart, not only the mind.’”

Then it’s on to Mount Titlis, another mile up in the air. It takes four gondolas rides up the mountain to get to the summit. On Mount Titlis, “I really felt like I was on top of the world,” says Perpignand. “It definitely is one of the jewels of Switzerland. Going up the mountains in the gondolas was so exciting. And it was a great bonding activity to get to know everybody in the program from both the Metropolitan and Florham campuses.”

Alumni often write to Tripodi about still craving the Swiss macaroni and cheese dish topped with applesauce, a local specialty in Engelberg, and about the night walk home, carrying torches through the forest. “People write on my Facebook page ten years later and say, ‘I can’t wait to go back.’”

In Lucerne, Lugano and Interlaken students tour premier hotels and resorts, and hear from general managers about the industry. At L’Aubier, a sustainable hotel in Neuchâtel, the owner, once an engineer, shows the group eco-friendly practices. “It’s unbelievable. It’s on a farm,” says Tripodi. “He does this heat transfer thing. In the winter the forest is warmer. It’s about maybe a mile away, and he has these tunnels dug from the forest to the hotel. In the summer, the forest is cooler than the hotel and the tunnels do the opposite.” Heat from their refrigerators warms water to wash clothes at the hotel.

Other trip highlights include stops at a sustainable fish farm, cookie and chocolate factories and the clock tower in Bern.

In Italy, everything revolves around the food.

“The professionals we met were very passionate about sharing their knowledge with the students,” says Kwon. “They shared a lot about Italy’s history and their cooking skills, to make the food more delicious. It was very nice seeing everyone enjoying sharing what they know.”

The day at Academia Barilla always stands out, says Ritz. Students cook with the chefs at the cooking school and then receive a tour of the pasta factory, which is a special perk, since it’s not open to the public for tours. “They make pasta from scratch, and ravioli, chicken, pork, vegetables and dessert in two and a half hours,” Ritz says. “When I saw the reaction of the students, in chef hats and aprons, receiving a certificate after they finish cooking — it was an amazing experience.”

They travel to Parma to see how Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made, and the owner/manager of the hotel in Reggio Emilia makes his own balsamic vinegar, so they see that process as well. From there it’s a tour of a local winery to see the bottling process and enjoy a tasting.

A history professor from a hospitality school in Florence takes FDU students on an architectural walking tour of the city. “My best memory is of visiting Florence — the Duomo [Duomo di Firenz] especially took my breath away. It was such an amazing experience, it’s hard to describe,” says Kwon.

The group hears about hospitality and tourism marketing from Italian hotel managers and owners, and visits an agriturismo, a farm-to-table style retreat. In Bologna, they go to a gelato museum and see a demonstration of how to make the sweet treat.

“The trips give them a much broader perspective of what can be done in their careers than what they would just be able to see and mimic here in the United States,” Tripodi says. “We’re planting really important seeds, ideas that they can have in the back of their heads and contacts they can reach back out to. That’s powerful.”

Ancient peoples painted on rock deep in caves in the Dhofar region of the Sultanate of Oman. William Zimmerle, assistant professor of humanities, has been documenting these “archaeological treasures,” including this rock art depicting humans using ladders to climb trees and pick coconuts, dropping them into nets. (Photos by Zimmerle)

Big Dig: Professor Preserves Rock Art, an ‘Archaeological Treasure,’ in Oman

Deep in cave shelters in the Dhofar region of the Sultanate of Oman, families and tribes finger-painted images on rock formations — these creations date back to between fourth and fifth B.C. to fifth century A.D. With paint made from hematite and carbon, elements found in soil, they painted scenes of warriors, animals, ships, and trees.

For the past three years, William Zimmerle, assistant professor of humanities at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus, has dedicated his research to documenting these rock art paintings, in photographs and writing.

“Rock art is so important to humanity as a whole. It’s pretty universal. It’s all around the world. It tells us about the human spirit to survive and to write and to create images,” says Zimmerle, BA’97 (Flor). “To be human is to be a part of culture.”

It all started with a history class. As an undergraduate student at FDU, Zimmerle took an ancient history course with professor R. Thomas McDonald and was hooked. McDonald mentored Zimmerle, and the two were in contact up until his death last fall. “He knew that I had gotten this position [at FDU],” says Zimmerle.

After FDU, Zimmerle studied Semitic languages, which include Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic, at Harvard University, and then archaeology and digital humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote his dissertation on incense burners, “a marker of early frankincense trade.” During that time, while living in Jordan, as the Samuel Kress Fellow in the history of art and archaeology at the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Zimmerle discovered that potters still make the burners today. That knowledge inspired his first trip to Oman.

While continuing his study of incense burners the following year in Dhofar, then as a Fulbright scholar, local Omani friends showed Zimmerle the extensive rock art in the caves. He had a new project.

“We found this one cave shelter that had extensive weathering, but also had the most impressive rock art. The locals call this cave the “Drawings of the Jinn.” Jinn are ghosts, spirits, even ancestors in Arabia. It’s where the Anglicized word genie comes from. It’s so vivid, it’s hard to find and it’s pretty mystical,” says Zimmerle. “Always, in the history of Arabia, this area has been enchanted and mystical.”

In the 1930s, British explorer Bertram Thomas visited Dhofar, traveling all through Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, too. “He documented so much. Standing stones in the desert, ‘pecking’ rock art and more,” Zimmerle says. Rock art can be painted or “pecked,” with one stone used as a hammer and the other as a chisel. “If you look at his maps, he came within ten kilometers of the painted rock art. He missed it because the caves are deep.”

But Zimmerle’s Omani colleague Ali Ahmed Al Shahri knew where to look, having extensively studied and collected data, just by walking the landscapes for his entire life. “Without that kind of work, we’d be lost out in the field,” Zimmerle says.

In Dhofar, the terrain and climate affected the art. “Everyone thinks this is all desert, but this area gets hit with a lot of rain. In the summertime it becomes like the hills of Scotland. Just gorgeous,” says Zimmerle. When the monsoons came, ancient peoples sought shelter in the caves. “You brought all your animals into the caves to live. That’s why the soil is very fertile.”

The scenes show men climbing trees, collecting dates and coconuts using ladders and nets; packs of Arabian camels; caravans; warriors on camels and horses; handprints; baboons, foxes and Nubian ibex; and ships. Researchers also discovered figures that could be women, but it’s not definitive. For now, most of these determinations are speculative.

“A lot of people think that women are responsible for making the art,” says Zimmerle. “The men went off, and the women were protecting and organizing their space, creating their space and making images.” Creating the cave paintings, like the burning of incense, is ritualistic.

Some scenes also feature letters and inscriptions.

“The inscriptions are made with the Thamudic alphabet. It’s pre-Islamic,” says Zimmerle. “We can’t read it yet. We can read the letters, but when we try to read what it says, it’s almost gibberish.” Researchers plan to add these images to a database and give access to linguists and other scholars. With their expertise, Zimmerle is hopeful that in a few years people will be able to read the inscriptions and understand more about ancient South Arabian languages.

“One find can change the entire history and narrative of an area,” he says.

One of the next phases of the project is for scholars to share and examine the digital photographs and discuss ideas and interpretations of the findings in a digital database to be housed at FDU.

The royal court of Oman and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., has provided funding for Zimmerle’s research, and for a recent exhibition of his images. The exhibit and accompanying catalogue were the project’s first benchmark. Zimmerle is in talks to show the exhibit elsewhere, with sights set on London, Berlin, the United Arab Emirates and Muscat, the capital of Oman, where he intends for the images to reside.

“Sultan Qaboos is a renaissance king. When he took the throne [in 1970], he invested in his people. He took the revenue from oil and brought it back to the country and invested it in education, science, infrastructure, culture and arts,” says Zimmerle. In Oman, “we can do this kind of work safely,” he says. “It’s much harder to do this work in Yemen and other countries. We’ve had unhindered access everywhere we’re wanted to go, and that’s been the big key.”

Though many archaeological, cultural and heritage sites have been ravaged and destroyed in other Middle Eastern countries during decades of unrest — not in Oman. “Oman still has its cultural treasures,” says Zimmerle.

His job, he says, is to preserve and protect.

“Most people have 19th-century colonial views of archeology and that’s not the case. We work alongside locals, who are the keepers of their own heritage. We train them in some of the latest techniques and they train us often in aspects of ethnography and local traditions,” says Zimmerle. “There’s no one person like Indiana Jones getting all the glory. The glory belongs to the country and the people.”

Going forward, Zimmerle wants to build the digital humanities program at the Metropolitan Campus, and continue photographing the rock art, using 3D cameras and Infrared technology. Down the line, he wants to explore the conservation aspect of the project, and protect sites for archeological tourism. There are so many projects within projects, he says. Right now, the paint residue is out for laboratory testing so researchers can determine if plant dyes or other minerals were added to the materials.

“FDU students are working in the art department on drawings of the panels,” Zimmerle says. “They will walk away with skills in museum drafting and illustrating. They can draw artifacts. They can actually go to sites and draw.”

Eventually, he’d like to take students to the sites for fieldwork.

“Students tend to say they love these culture classes, but they want to take majors that are more economically productive,” says Zimmerle. “I tell them that you can still find work. There’s great work to be done.” He recommends students interested in archaeology study with him, and also select a science minor, like chemistry. With that dual expertise, graduates can work on archeological projects, testing residue in ancient burners, for example, to determine the composition of incense.

“It’s not humanities versus science. Ultimately, it’s bringing these two into discussion and tandem together. We’re asking macro humanities questions, and we’re using science on a micro level to answer them,” Zimmerle says.

The delegates for Samoa, all students at FDU’s Vancouver Campus, win the Distinguished Delegation award at National Model United Nations, at the U.N. in March 2017. (Photos courtesy of Jobin Mojtabavi)

Vancouver’s Model UN Team Wins Third Award

Two brothers, eight international voices and one trip to New York City resulted in a third win in four years for Vancouver students at National Model United Nations (NMUN).

“Our entire NMUN team demonstrated collaboration and cooperation through multilateral diplomacy,” says Jobin Mojtabavi, MAS’13, director of student services at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Vancouver Campus in British Columbia, Canada. The team, representing the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, took home the award for Distinguished Delegation.

“The pursuit of knowledge is very important to us, and to go out and see that other people are really hungry for that environment, too — you want to be more like them, to be able to work with them and be more understanding,” says team member Van Truong, a junior business administration major from Vietnam.

At NMUN, an annual competition in New York City, thousands of college and university students act as delegates in simulated United Nations committees, working together to write and pass resolutions.

“Little things can affect how countries view resolutions. Some Middle Eastern countries wanted the [resolution] wording to be gender parity over gender equality,” says team member Viet Truong, Van’s brother, and a sophomore business administration major. At NMUN, “You learn how language is important in decision-making.”

“You have to show your leadership in big groups,” adds head delegate Ana Flores, a junior studying business administration from El Salvador. “You have to organize other delegates, suggest brainstorm sessions, strategize, and finally, write and polish the resolution and send it to the chair.”

This year’s team, the largest yet, included Flores, Carlos Martell, Barbara Castro, Munkhsolongo “Solo” Sangibat, Eduardo Vega, Ruramai Diana Mavhunga, and the Truongs. The brothers are studying abroad at FDU’s Florham Campus this semester and joined the group in New York City.

“Whereas most teams brought their domestic students to the conference, we had a truly international team, [which] consisted of students from El Salvador, Brazil, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and Vietnam,” Mojtabavi says. “I am very proud of this team as they were well-coordinated and worked very hard.”

“In order to win an award, you have to stand out and get noticed. Be assertive about your positions and cooperative with other people,” says Viet Truong.

At the beginning of the conference, the team met with the real permanent representative of Samoa to the United Nations. Afterward they felt more confident and energized about their research on the country.

The group asked the representative about the prevalence of domestic abuse in Samoa, and the lack of incident records and reports.

“He said he would not defend those [abusive] actions in his country and that the government is aware,” says Van Truong. The students felt emboldened by such a positive and open response — especially because sometimes, when representatives are asked about controversial issues, they will be “secretive or evasive,” adds Van Truong. Not in this case.

“NMUN definitely opened my eyes regarding small nations,” says team member Carlos Martell, a senior majoring in information technology. “How they’re facing so many different issues and treat different problems with different priorities. If we all had more talks instead of more wars, a lot of issues could be tackled in a better way.”

Samoa puts high priority on gender and environmental issues. “These islands, everything they have is the ocean around them, so it’s important to them to take care of those regions,” says Martell.

The country also suffers from a severe lack of modern infrastructure. Developers are “working on an app that would let citizens know about tsunamis” to help them prepare in advance, says Martell. Without more internet access and connectivity, though, the app can’t benefit much of the population. To advocate their NMUN positions more fully, the Samoan representatives worked closely with Fiji and other islands. “We joined with other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and we were a big, solid group,” Flores says.

After four days of work, negotiations, and a demanding schedule — starting at 8:30 a.m. and finishing after 10:30 p.m., says Martell — the students reaped the reward. “I was actually the one who found out that we won,” Martell says. “Everyone was shouting and so excited” when he refreshed the web browser and read the news out loud.

In an email later, Vancouver Campus Provost Cecil Abrahams commended the students, “All of us at FDU are immensely proud of you. We recognize the hard work and dedication that went into your achievement and you have exhibited to the larger world that you come from a place of quality. I know that in years to come this experience will stay with you and assist you as you make your way through the world.”

Watch the FDU-Vancouver Campus National Model United Nations: