Melanie Whitaker '01; Learning & Development Manager; Dorchester Collection: My name is Melanie Whitaker. I graduated from Appalachian State University in 2001 with a double major in hospitality & tourism management and marketing.
MW: My life as a student at Appalachian was fantastic. I started out studying chemistry and it was a lot of hard work—I loved it—but I was going to classes, labs, working and my roommate at the time was studying hospitality and she was having the most amazing time. And I thought, "I want to be doing what she's doing." So, I went home one day, dropped all of my science classes—sorry, science—and picked up hospitality classes. And I'm really pleased that I did because it's brought me here.
MW: I ended up in London because I was originally coming over for a friend's wedding. So when I was coming over for the wedding, I decided to send out my resumé. I sent out, probably, over 50 resumés to all different hotels in London and I got just one response. But that did it. I'm the Learning & Development Manager for Dorchester Collection, so for the three hotels here in the U.K.—we have The Dorchester, Coworth Park and 45 Park Lane. That means that I look after the training and the development for over 1,100 employees within the three hotels.
MW: So, we're here in The Dorchester. It's one of the world's finest hotels, opened in 1931. It's the flagship of Dorchester Collection's nine hotels. This room is the penthouse. It was designed by Oliver Messel in the 1950's—he was a very famous theatre designer—and it's a listed room, which means that it's protected, it's part of the heritage. So, a very special place here within The Dorchester.
MW: So, my advice to students—current students or future students—would be, firstly, to take advantage of all that Appalachian has to offer because there's so much. Also, go on a study abroad. If you can take a semester abroad, or even just one of the summer trips to study abroad, do it. Then I think you'll really have the chance to connect with people, connect with the culture, and that's one thing that inspired me then to actually move abroad when I finished my degree.
MW: Hospitality is a fantastic career path. It's brought me to London and I've seen so much more of the world than I would have. Living abroad is amazing. It's been the best experience of my life and it's really changed who I am. I would recommend it to everyone. I've learned so much about other cultures. I've visited so many places in Europe that I never would have had the opportunity to do if I'd stayed in the U.S. So, I would definitely recommend to anyone to go and experience what it's like to live in another country. You won't regret it.
Melanie Whitaker '01 has one recommendation for Appalachian students and new alumni. "Experience what it's like to live in another country," she says. "You won't regret it."
Whitaker is the learning and development manager for the Dorchester Collection, three, five-star luxury hotels in the United Kingdom. She oversees training and development for more than 1,100 employees at The Dorchester, Coworth Park and 45 Park Lane.
Originally from Burnsville, N.C., Whitaker credits her roommate with introducing her to the hospitality and tourism management program in Appalachian's Walker College of Business. "Laura was doing so many exciting projects. She really opened up the world of hospitality management to me, which shaped my career path," Whitaker says.
While at Appalachian, a scholarship made it possible for her to study in Australia. "I met so many people and learned so much about the culture," she says, and this cultural connection inspired her to move abroad after graduation.
She was traveling to the UK for a friend's wedding, and decided to take the opportunity to send out her resume. "I sent it to over 50 hotels all over London. I got only one response, but that did it!" She interviewed in London and two weeks later was offered a job. "I thought I was going to stay for one year, and here it is, eight and a half years later," she says.
The years she has spent abroad have shaped who she is now, both professionally and personally. She enjoys the proximity of England to other countries, and feels that has she has benefited from the multicultural exposure London offers. "Living abroad is amazing, and has really changed who I am. I've learned so much about other cultures—my friends in London are from all over the world—and I've visited so many places in Europe."
It's clear that Whitaker's heart is in London. She comes home once a year and stays in touch with her family and friends with Skype. "I'd say the only thing I really miss are Girl Scout cookies!" she says with a grin.
Despite the lack of Thin Mints (although her sisters send her a freezerful each year), Whitaker exudes enthusiasm for the ex-pat life. "Just experience living in another culture!" she encourages her siblings, her friends, and anyone who will listen, "It's really been the best experience of my life."