An Interview with Fifth Year Hospitality and Tourism Student: Tharshika Jeyaraj

It’s time for another interview with my good friend Tharshika Jeyaraj who is a fellow Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) student. She is a fifth-year student in the Hospitality and Tourism program and she has had a unique university experience that she is pleased to share with you all (spoiler: she went to the arctic for a course!). Read on to find out more:

 

What is the Hospitality and Tourism Management program?

“The Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) program is a SMART Accreditation Program that aims to provide students experience in all aspects of the industry, which comprises learning about leadership in a variety of service organizations. Students take courses in many different aspects of the HTM industry including hotels, restaurants, tourism and some of the lesser-known aspects such as events, sales, casinos and more. The courses students take are focused on developing long-term skills that will help them find jobs in the industry. The program requires students to complete 1000 work experience hours (which is much easier than prospective students may think) before they graduate.”

 

Why did you choose the HTM program?

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All the students and two HTM Ryerson faculty that were involved in the 2018 HTCC case competition.

“I chose the Hospitality and Tourism program because I heard nice things about the Ryerson community since many of my friends attended Ryerson before I did. It was also recommended to me by several of my teachers back in high school as they thought being personable is an asset to the industry and something that I could bring forward. In my research prior to attending the program, I noticed how students are able to take a wide variety of courses that allow them to understand the hospitality and tourism industry as a whole. Many of the courses that we take are similar to the ones taken in the Business Management Program, but there are some additional courses that make this program specialized in HTM.”

 

Are you happy with your choice? Is it what you expected?

“I am incredibly happy and satisfied with my choice! The classes for the HTM program are much smaller than other business programs in TRSM. You get to know a lot about your classmates, professors, faculty and staff on a more personal level. I wasn’t expecting to have as many friends as I do now but I’ve learned the program is a close-knit community. All of the professors in the HTM department have so much knowledge, passion, experience and dedication about the industry, which allows students to understand the industry in a raw and real sense. I also love how sustainability is such a major part of the curriculum, and it is great to see the professors incorporating it well into the courses we take. Everyone involved in the program is there to help us grow and we can tell because the support we have is quite strong.”

 

What’s a common misconception of your program?

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Tharshika with friends during The Ryerson Hospitality and Tourism Students’ Society’s Patio Night in 2018.

“When people think of “HTM” they seem to think that this program is only for people who want to run restaurants and hotels. That’s not the case at all! Yes, there are many courses related to hotel and restaurant management that students can choose to take, but the HTM degree is so much more. For example, if you want to be a wedding planner, there is a wide variety of event management courses to choose from. In HTM, just like any business program, you must take the mandatory marketing, finance, accounting, human resources courses to complete the degree. The whole program itself is useful because it allows you to integrate a lot of the knowledge you learn into many other disciplines as well. For example, when I went to several networking events held by the Business Career Hub (BCH), the recruiters almost always mentioned how HTM students have a high reputation for understanding consumers.”

 

Do you have a minor? 

“Growing up, I was known to have an energetic and extroverted personality. Although I had no problem presenting in front of a crowd, I wanted to learn how to control my energy and use it to my advantage. In my third year, I was looking through all the potential minors I could take and I stumbled upon the Professional Communications minor. It was perfect for me! Not only did the minor help with the output of my presentation skills, but I also learned about the different styles of presenting and knowing which presentation style is right for me. The courses I have taken for the minor have helped a lot, especially the Professional Presentations and Visual Communication courses. The skills I’ve learned through this minor will come in handy for my future career as communication skills are super important for any job description.”

 

What has been a favourite course you have taken?

Tharshika by the arctic ocean sign in Tuktoyaktuk

Tharshika by the Arctic Ocean sign in Tuktoyaktuk.

“My favourite course was definitely Field Studies in Hospitality and Tourism. It allowed me to participate in experiential learning, which helped me enrich myself in a culture and environment I wasn’t used to. In previous years, students got to go to places like Cuba and Jamaica. This year, I got to visit several parts of the Northwest Territories: Yellowknife, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk). I went along with 15 other students and Dr. Sonya Graci, the professor, organizer and heart of this trip. I was hesitant at first, as I have never travelled without family, but with Dr. Graci’s encouragement, I decided that it would be good for me. 

A teepee in Inuvik during “blue hour”

Before our departure, we had to write a research essay that allowed us to understand the issues, climate change, economy, and more of the places we were going to visit. It was great preparation as we understood the basics of what we will experience there throughout the duration of our 12-day trip. I was not expecting what I experienced for the most part, so I learned quite a lot. During the trip, we had to write in-detail what we did daily in a journal as another assignment. The trip was was one of the best experiences of my life. I also made some great friends on this trip which is another super cool benefit of the course.”

 

What were some highlights of the trip?

Cured Muktuk (whale)

Cured Muktuk (whale)

“I really enjoyed visiting the only elementary and high school in Tuk. We visited the junior kindergarten class and it was cool to see what they learn compared to what we learn in Ontario. We saw someone in the class demonstrating how to skin a Canada Goose! According to the teacher, students learn from a young age how to skin and prepare a goose and other animals. This is because they generally grow up eating these kinds of meat and to show them how to use the skin and feathers for other purposes, as the communities make sure to not waste any part of the animal. On the walls of the classroom, I noticed how instead of English and French like you see in typical Toronto classrooms, there was English and the Inuvialuktun equivalent translations. Inuvialuktun is one of the well-known languages spoken in Tuktoyaktuk.

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One of the many beautiful igloos Tharshika saw in Inuvik!

Throughout the trip, I also got to try so many different proteins that I’ve never tried before. One of my favourites is whale which it is called muktuk, and I thought it was tasty as it reminded me of sashimi. The high school students in Tuk made us some dried moose which was also delicious. My favourite meat that I tried was caribou which I tried in a lot of soups. I also tried dried whitefish and arctic char.

We even had the opportunity to sleep in igloos in Inuvik, which was a cool experience, but not what I was expecting at all. Prior to our visit, I thought that most of the community had slept in an igloo at least once in their lifetime. It turned out that almost all the people we spoke to had never slept in one and that they are mostly used as emergency shelters when they go ice-fishing. I thought it would be warmer than it was in the igloo as there was seal skin at the bottom it. In all honesty, I stayed in the igloo for about 20 minutes as it was the first whole day of the group being outside, and I just wanted the warmth of the tent instead. Most of the other students on our trip lasted the whole night.”

 

Outside of class what have you been involved with?

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The RHTSS Members after the Alumni Night event in 2019.

“In my first year, I made quite a few friends within my program, but I wanted to expand my network at Ryerson. To do that, I joined many student groups such as the Ryerson University Sri Lankan student association (RUSLSA) in my second year because I also wanted to know more about the Sri Lankan culture as I am Sri Lankan myself. I joined HTMentoring the same year which is an initiative that helps first-year students in the HTM program transition into university. In my third year, I loved HTMentoring so much that I got promoted to Co-President of the program. The role entailed creating materials for all 52 HTMentors that I hired as well as developing and running events for over 200 first-year students. It was really rewarding to see the HTMentees’ progress as many of them have made a successful transition. In my fourth year, I wanted to take it up a notch, so I became the Executive Vice President of The Ryerson Hospitality and Tourism Students’ Society (RHTSS). I tried to engage the HTM students and the Ryerson community as a whole through our events. 

Tharshika during RHTSS’s Annual Conference in 2019.

In my third year, I was one of the 12 students in the program that competed for the Hospitality and Tourism Case Competition (HTCC). Prior to the event, we had practice sessions to brush up on our presenting, finance and critical thinking skills. We had the opportunity to travel to Montreal to compete, and it was such a cool experience overall!

Currently, I’m a student council representative for fourth year HTM students. My role is to represent all fourth-year HTM students at Ryerson at meetings by presenting ideas and initiatives that the students may have. I also give feedback and vote for changes to the HTM curriculum or the program in general.

In terms of work, during my first year, I worked in catering at Ryerson and learned a lot about the food industry and customer service. I also worked at the Student Learning Centre (SLC) as a Specialist which involved being a brand ambassador for Ryerson. The job also allowed Specialists to join committees, and I was a part of the winter marketplace event committee.  I also held several other jobs at Ryerson including a Room Auditor and an Assistant at the OneCard Office.”

 

Have you had any internships?

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Tharshika with her fellow students and her professor in Tuktoyaktuk.

“Although there is no internship requirement for the program, you must complete 1000 work experience hours before graduation. This can be in the form of internships, paid work experience and volunteer hours as long as it’s related to the industry. In the summer of 2016, I worked at Statistics Canada as an Enumerator. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone, as it was my first job that was not food or piano related. Since it was a very customer service orientated role, it really put my service and people skills to the test. I got to communicate with people who did not complete or submit their census and learn the many reasons why they didn’t which was the coolest part of the whole experience.

The past summer I worked as an FSWEP [Federal School Work Experience Program] Student for the Canada Pension and Old Age Security Branch for Service Canada, and I got re-hired to work part-time throughout the school year. It was and is such a great experience as I learned how to do so much in such a short time. Not only did it allow me to understand how to use many of the internal softwares and processes, but I also understood how a lot of things work in a more corporate setting.”

 

What’s next for you after graduation?

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Tharshika with a hand-painted satellite by the locals in Inuvik!

“Several years down the line I want to have a successful job in training and recruitment, which is more on the human resources side. I’ve enjoyed the human resources type roles I’ve had in student groups, and I would like to apply that knowledge to a career. The hiring process is pretty interesting as you get to see what the potential employees of the company are good at and see what they can bring to the table. I am also interested in creating content and presentations, so I would love a role that will allow me to utilize my energy into creating content that will help out any company in the long run.

I plan on staying in Toronto because I like the accessibility of the city, but after I get my driver’s license and gain some experience in my field I would like to move to the suburbs because I think a change in scenery would be nice. I was born and raised in a city and moving somewhere with more green space may be better for me!” 

 

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