By: Raina DeBrouwer

The first thing Fei Xie noticed when his plane landed in Halifax from Yinchuan, China was that it was cold. The temperature in Yinchuan never falls below zero degrees Celsius, so Halifax’s cool fall evenings surprised him.

Fei hadn’t known much about Canada before he came, but the opportunity to study here came up through his university’s articulation agreement with Canadian universities. The Bachelor of Tourism & Hospitality program at Xi’an International University offers a 2+2 route – meaning Fei could finish his studies at a qualifying university in Canada. Fei’s choices were the University of Prince Edward Island or Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU). Fei’s only connection to Canada was an instructor he studied with at an English language school who had lived in Halifax.

Portrait of tourism co-op student Fei Xie wearing a red jacket
Fei Xie, Bachelor of Tourism & Hospitality Management, MSVU, 2023

“He told me about Halifax, how it was a small, clean city with very friendly people. I decided that that’s where I would go,” said Fei.

That was all Fei knew when he decided to embark on his first adventure outside of China. Luckily, his first impression of Halifax – and of the Tourism & Hospitality Management program at MSVU – were good ones. While Fei had studied many elements of tourism at Xi’an, he was most excited to explore the management components of the MSVU curriculum.

“One of my goals is to start a business in the future, and this degree feels like a blend of both tourism and management. I was pleased with the course content,” Fei said.

While the coursework came naturally to Fei, he knew that studying wasn’t the only new experience he’d be embarking on in Canada. As part of the MSVU Tourism & Hospitality Management program, Fei was required to complete two co-op work terms. Although he had worked part-time in China as a waiter, this would be Fei’s first foray into a Canadian workplace. He decided that applying to be a room attendant at Future Inns would be a good start – a position that he purposefully selected because of the introductory nature of it.

“I knew I needed both work and life experience in Canada. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with a job that would be extremely difficult, because I was already facing the normal challenges with acclimatizing to Canada. My priorities were learning the Canadian culture, familiarizing myself with a Canadian workplace, and improving my English. I knew this job would let me focus on those things.”

While Fei might have selected this job to learn the basics, it was apparent very quickly to the Future Inns Housekeeping Manager, Marie Aucoin, that he had potential to do more. She had worked with many students over the years, but none rose to prominence in her mind quite as quickly as Fei.

“It was clear very quickly on the job that Fei was an exceptional employee. His rooms were excellent and he showed a real passion for the industry, so we soon gave him other responsibilities. Before his co-op ended, Fei was a shift lead and was opening the housekeeping department in the mornings. This never happens. I went to the owner of company saying we needed to keep this young man,” said Marie.

Fei proved himself to the extent that Future Inns offered him a Housekeeping Supervisor role for his second co-op. Returning to the Future Inns wasn’t a hard decision for Fei to make – he loved the environment there. Marie and his other two supervisors were committed to mentoring him, not just supervising. Fei also realized that the exposure he was getting at the Future Inns wasn’t likely to be replicated if he moved to another hotel.

Not to say that the transition from Room Attendant to Housekeeping Supervisor was an easy one. Fei hadn’t had any practical experience in managing people. He also felt that his English-speaking skills weren’t sufficient to lead a team and coordinate with other departments. It was then that Fei decided to prioritize speaking English by reading English articles and watching all media with English subtitles. He also approached his supervisors to ask about management tips. Fei ultimately decided to approach any management challenges from the perspective of someone who wants to one day run a business.

“I’ve always thought: if this were my business that was having this problem, how would I solve it? I’m always trying to think of ways to move the business forward and fix problems.”

Luckily, Fei’s former coworkers-turned-subordinates took his new position in stride. “It’s very easy to manage the room attendants in this role. They are friendly and hardworking, and they understand that my motivations are to serve the hotel. They trust me.”

Marie echoed this sentiment about the team atmosphere under Fei’s leadership.

“Fei was able to navigate things well. It’s his quiet demeanor. He keeps busy. The room attendants know that he’s working alongside them and working hard. It would be different if he was giving orders from behind a desk, but Fei’s always been hands on.”

Now that Fei has completed his two co-op work terms and recently graduated from MSVU, he’s working as a full-time housekeeping supervisor at Future Inns while cross training in other departments and keeping his eye on the future.

“In the short term, I want to get my permanent residency,” said Fei. “Staying in Canada wasn’t always my plan, but I decided to do it after my first co-op. I like it here. The Canadian culture, the closeness with nature and the social element.”

Fei can see the tourism industry flourishing in Atlantic Canada, and feels excited about the opportunities available to him. Marie is similarly excited about what’s coming up in tourism.

“COVID hit everyone differently, but it was particularly scary for the tourism industry, with lots of unknowns. Luckily, the industry has rebounded. People are happy to be travelling and things are moving towards normality. One thing that’s definitely changed is that staffing isn’t taken for granted anymore. When you get someone like Fei, you want to make sure they’ll stay.”

When Fei is asked for advice for students starting their first co-op jobs, he advises them to be committed: “Whatever you do for school or work, be committed. Improvement takes time so be patient as well. Just make sure you commit fully.”

Marie has high hopes for Fei. “His career will go anywhere he wants it to go, and we will support him in whatever he wants to do. He absolutely has the ability to start his business. Whatever he sets his mind to, he will make it happen. There is no ego with him, there is positivity. He wants to do the work and do it well.”

Marie Aucoin and Future Inns were awarded New Tourism & Hospitality Management Co-op Employer of the Year in 2022 by MSVU. The selection criteria included consideration of the work environment, leadership and mentorship, the supervisor’s demonstrated support of student learning, and the employer’s commitment to co-op. Over the last five years of hiring MSVU co-op students, Future Inns has demonstrated their exceptional commitment to student growth and learning.

Fei’s experience at Future Inns, while unique in certain aspects, shows just how far one can take their co-op journey with a high degree of dedication and excellent mentorship around them. Fei was voted MSVU Tourism and Hospitality Management Co-op Student of the Year in 2022, and we’re excited to see where his career takes him going forward.