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   Date: 7/22/11 Bookmark and Share

World Travel, Hotel Life—Praxis Intern Lives Like Eloise

Rising junior Elizabeth Biddle, who spent most of June as a Praxis intern at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Lhasa, Tibet, recently wrote about her experience for the Gate.

Elizabeth at the Plaza

Elizabeth Biddle ’13 at her "Plaza," the St. Regis, Lhasa

An illustration of Eloise, the 6-year-old sophisticate created by Kay Thompson

By Elizabeth Biddle ’13

“You have an Eloise!”

That was the first thing my kindergarten teacher said to my parents the day I started school some 15 years ago in Seattle, Washington.

She was right. I was an Eloise. The perky, curious, 6-year-old character living at the New York Plaza Hotel was invented by Kay Thompson, inspired by the author’s own experiences growing up at the Plaza. Eloise was well-traveled, having visited Paris, Moscow and other world landmarks.

Like Eloise, I, too, was a blonde 6-year-old with a vision. I knew I was in charge and that only I could save the day. Little did my kindergarten teacher know just how much my life would mirror that of Eloise.

At 7 years old, my international travels began when my parents moved my 4-year-old sister and me from a small American, suburban neighborhood to the bustling, teeming, towering metropolis of Hong Kong.

With our only prior reference of Asia being “Big Bird goes to China,” we expected to see a lot of straw hats, temples and, of course, Big Bird. What we discovered instead was a city much bigger than we had ever seen, with 100,000 people living in a single city block in apartment buildings that stretched to the sky.

This strange new world became our home, and with this new life came opportunity for travel, new languages and adventure.

My mother, once a surgeon and now a consultant, fashion designer and travel connoisseur, immediately began planning family adventure trips. We travailed the China Silk Road in the footsteps of Marco Polo before CNN and National Geographic ever set foot there. We spent Christmases with native hill tribes in Myanmar and Vietnam, viewed crumbling Communist factories from the Russian Trans-Siberian Railway, rode on horses around the Giza pyramids and trekked to the Mount Everest base camp. We visited more than 50 countries together, bringing us closer as a family and putting the world in perspective.

With our adventure trips came numerous lodging experiences, from Sahara tents and mud huts to India’s palaces, Uyghur yak-hide yurts and Swiss youth hostels to the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel and the six-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Like Eloise, I have lived in hotels most of my life.

So when I was offered an internship this summer at the St. Regis Hotel in Lhasa, Tibet, I jumped at the chance.

Even before coming to Smith, I had heard of the Praxis Program, the college’s subsidized internship program that enables students to work in a field of their choice. As a theater major with a government minor, I wanted to use my Praxis internship to delve into a different field, and nothing seemed more natural to me than to learn how hotels operate behind the scenes. When my Praxis proposal was approved, I became the first intern and first native English speaker to work at the prestigious St. Regis Lhasa Resort, Tibet’s first luxury hotel, and the highest in the world.

My month at the St. Regis Lhasa earlier this summer is one I will never forget. Working 12-hour days I interned in all of the departments, including the concierge, dining, butler, housekeeping, florist, human resources, and managerial departments, and made friends with local Tibetans, who kindly introduced me to their culture.

I saw surprising similarities between performing arts and the hotel business, namely that it takes an ensemble to run the show, just as it takes talent, teamwork, and sometimes improvisation for a luxury hotel to run smoothly.

These are things that Eloise creator Kay Thompson also noticed as a Hollywood, stage and radio star. From greeting ambassadors and local governors to solving guest challenges, there was never a dull moment for me at the luxury hotel and, as in the performing arts, every day brought surprises. Through citywide blackouts, ceiling leaks, lost cell phones and cameras, the hotel staff brilliantly upheld the St. Regis standard without interruption.

I frequently thought of Eloise at the Plaza as I made bouquets in the St. Regis flower room and sang operatic arias during the Sabrage ceremonies. As a child, I always imagined that Eloise would become involved in the hotel business one day, as I imagined I would.

As with Eloise, hotels will always play a leading role in my life, serving as my homes away from home.

“I absolutely love the Plaza!” Eloise would exclaim. And, feeling like Eloise again, I loved my time at the St. Regis.

During her Junior Year Abroad, Elizabeth Biddle will spend more time away from home as she studies performing arts at the O’Neill Theater Institute in Connecticut, then moves on to Herford College, Oxford, in the spring to study government and philosophy.

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