My Journey into a Hospitality Career as a First-Generation Latinx Student

St. john's first-year latinx student smiling next to faculty
By Emely Almendariz

As a first-generation Latinx student navigating the dynamic environment of St. John’s University, I am driven by the challenges and opportunities that will prepare me for a successful career in hospitality management.

In this blog, I share some valuable experiences that have ignited my passion and equipped me with the skills needed to make a significant impact in the hospitality industry.

The Power of a Bilingual Upbringing

Growing up bilingual in Spanish and English in Queens, NY, has profoundly shaped me into the person I am today. My parents immigrated from Ecuador to the United States with nothing but hope to provide their children with a better future. 

Attending a prestigious Catholic institution like St. John’s University is not just an academic achievement for me; it is a testament to their sacrifices and support. They came here with nothing but a dream to give me everything. This profound gratitude drives me to excel in my studies and career, honoring their hard work and dedication in every decision I make.

Networking and Knowledge: Growth Opportunities at St. John’s 

Attending the THEREPS Conference

St. John's College Student Speaking at a Hospitality Conference

I had the privilege of recently participating in the THEREPS (Tourism, Hospitality, and Event for Researchers, Educators, Practitioners, and Students) conference held in Chicago, IL. This experience left a lasting mark on my academic journey. 

During the conference, I engaged in extensive networking with peers and esteemed professors representing a diverse array of backgrounds. I presented a research project, “Which Destinations Exemplify the Most Effective Benchmarking Practices,” which provided a platform for insightful discussions and constructive feedback from industry experts and fellow scholars. 

Additionally, I attended workshops led by distinguished professionals such as Jaehyun Jaden Park, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Robin M. Back, Ph.D., Interim Chair of the Department of Foodservice & Lodging Management, and Associate Professor, Department of Foodservice and Lodging Management, Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida, broadening my understanding of customer-centered design, innovation, and the nuances of wine tasting within the hospitality sector.

THEREPS (Tourism, Hospitality, and Event for Researchers, Educators, Practitioners, and Students) conference

Guidance and Inspiration from St. John’s Faculty 

My journey at St. John’s has been profoundly shaped by the support and mentorship of two exceptional professors. My adviser, Seunghyun “Brian” Park, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Administration and Economics, The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, holds a special place in my journey. Having known me since my first year, he has been a guiding light throughout my academic years, providing invaluable support and encouragement. His mentorship has been instrumental in my growth and development. 

Similarly, April M. Merenda, Assistant Professor of Administration and Economics, The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, has been an incredible mentor, demonstrating through her passion and dedication that women can thrive in the hospitality industry. Their belief in my potential 

Studying Abroad in Rome

Narrow Street with Cafe and Small Shops in Rome⁠

Studying abroad at St. John’s campus in Rome, Italy, as a Hospitality Management major was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Before this opportunity, I had never traveled outside of the United States. The experience changed my perspective on all aspects of my life and the hospitality industry. 

Immersing myself in a different culture, experiencing international hospitality standards firsthand, and navigating life in a foreign country broadened my horizons in ways I would never have imagined. I was able to observe how cultural nuances influence customer service and guest expectations, significantly enhancing my approach to hospitality. The challenge of communicating in a different language and adapting to a new environment also boosted my confidence and problem-solving skills.

Additionally, my friendships and connections with fellow international students and locals enriched my experience beyond measure. We shared stories, traditions, and meals, creating lasting memories I will treasure forever. This achievement taught me resilience, adaptability, and the beauty of cultural exchange in my personal and professional life.

Meaningful Hands-On Experience in the Hospitality Industry

My practical experiences have been equally enriching. I have worked as a server and bartender at various high-profile events in New York City, honing my skills and preparing me for future leadership positions. Starting my career journey at 17, I have balanced full-time work alongside full-time studies. This early start has instilled a strong work ethic and taught me the value of time management and perseverance. 

Building on this foundation, I recently seized an incredible opportunity to become a Guest Service Agent at Hotel Giraffe in New York City. This role has been a dream come true, allowing me to gain invaluable experience in the hospitality industry. I am immensely grateful to my professor, April Merenda, who connected me with Juan Salvador, the hotel’s Front Office Manager. Mr. Salvador recognized my potential and believed I would be an excellent fit for this position. I am immensely thankful for their support and guidance, which have been instrumental in helping me embark on this exciting new chapter in my career.

Working in these roles has given me firsthand insight into the importance of effective management, while witnessing how management decisions impact every aspect of the operation, from frontline staff to customer satisfaction. These experiences have fueled my desire to pursue leadership roles in the hospitality industry.

Embracing the Future

Looking ahead, I contemplate various paths within the hospitality industry, yet I am at peace with the uncertainty. Rather than feeling anxious about not having a concrete plan postgraduation, I embrace the unknown, knowing that wherever life leads me, I will bring my passion and dedication to succeed. 

My journey has taught me the importance of adaptability and resilience, qualities I am confident will serve me well in navigating the opportunities and challenges ahead. As I aspire to expand my horizons internationally, I am excited by the prospect of making a meaningful impact across cultures and borders. 

While I strive for professional growth and advancement in hospitality, I am equally committed to maintaining a healthy work-life balance and achieving financial stability. With an open mind and a determined spirit, I eagerly anticipate the adventures and experiences that await me on this journey.

Final Thoughts 

As I begin the next chapter of my life, I am grateful for my time and the experiences provided through St. John’s University. The ongoing support and mentorship I have received have empowered me to pursue my dreams in the hospitality industry. With determination and a passion for excellence, I eagerly anticipate the opportunities and challenges ahead. I am confident in my ability to make a meaningful impact and continue striving for success.

St. john's student, Emely Almendariz

Emely Almendariz


Emely Almendariz is a senior at St. John’s University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management degree with minors in International Studies and Business Administration. In addition, she is enrolled in the fast-track program, pursuing a Master of Science degree in International Hospitality Management alongside her undergraduate studies.