NAIT Convocation 2022: The Tokyo Connection

How Erdem Guner earned his Hospitality Management diploma from half a world away

From September 2020 to March 2021, Erdem Guner didn’t get much sleep. Every night at about 2 a.m., he’d wake up and get out of bed, trying not to disturb his wife who was still asleep in their bachelor apartment in the heart of Tokyo, Japan.

Then he’d turn on his computer, put on his headphones and join his NAIT Hospitality Management class, taking place in real time at a kinder hour in Alberta. Guner had told instructors that he’d use chat rather than speak as part of his efforts to keep quiet. Given the unique circumstances, they understood.

At around 7 a.m., classes would end and Guner would hurriedly eat breakfast before heading off to his job at a hotel at a local U.S. military base.

“It was not that much fun,” he says of the routine. But, “I had no choice,” the 33-year-old adds without regret. “I had to do it.”

The main reason Guner had no choice was because of the difficulty of moving between countries during the pandemic, especially as an international student.

But there was another reason. As one of his instructors, Susan Lauder, says, “He is focused on hospitality and has made a clear career choice. That’s not terribly common anymore to see such dedication to our industry.”

Guner had a vision for his future in this industry, and he felt that attending NAIT, no matter how he had to do it, was the way to make it happen. It worked – and, as it turns out, just in time.

The unique value of Canadian education

ernest's dining room at NAIT

Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, Guner left his country of birth about 13 years ago in search of new experiences and opportunities. Before landing in Japan, where his wife is from and they lived from 2017 to 2021, he’d taken a business degree in Halifax and spent time living and working in Calgary.

While in Alberta, Guner had the chance to visit Edmonton, and he liked the idea of returning for school.

He also liked the hospitality industry. In Istanbul, Guner worked at the Hilton. At the hotel at the base in Tokyo, Guner waited tables and staffed the onsite shop. Not surprising of a globetrotter, he’s outgoing and friendly, possessed of an authentic, inviting enthusiasm. “I like interacting with people,” he says.

But Guner also has his sights set on leadership in the industry. “I saw that for any of the manager positions I would want to get in the future, I had to get an education in hospitality management.”

"For the manager positions I would want in the future, I had to get an education in hospitality management.”

As Lauder sees it, “He is using his diploma to advance his career.”

Based on reactions to his business degree, making the extraordinary effort to learn in Canada was an obvious choice for Guner. The country, he says, is revered worldwide for the quality of its schools. “This is why so many international students are coming to Canada for an education,” he says. Like him, he adds, they want to stand out.

“It’s been worth it”

Erdem Guner, NAIT Hospitality student

Guner was finally able to secure a visa and come to Edmonton in March 2021 after nearly six months of night classes. NAIT’s Hospitality program would continue online for another year before transitioning to in-person learning for the last few months of the term, but Guner was happy simply to be in the same time zone.

Despite the challenges, he excelled, making the honour roll each semester and finishing with a grade point average just shy of 4.0.

“When I get good results, good marks and comments from my instructors, then I feel that I have done something right,” says Guner. “It’s been worth it.”

He feels those results will help him in whatever he does next – whether that’s getting on track to management or combining his hospitality and business education to start a venture of his own.

In any case, Guner’s timing may be good. After months of dealing with the ebb and flow of customers with the waves of the pandemic, the hotel industry is in the early stages of rebound and recovery compared to 2020 occupancy levels, and willing to make new investments toward improved customer service.

On a personal note, he’s ending his studies at the perfect point to embark on another experience, hopefully in Canada, should his application for permanent residency be granted. Early this May, Guner and his wife expect to become new parents.

“I’m not able to join convocation,” he says, any disappointment masked by his excitement. “My baby is coming at the same time.”

For more information about Convocation 2022, visit the event page.

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