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A global conference, a divisive challenge: Hospitality student faces the fallout of “unaligned values” during group project
Ekaterina Morozova presents a team project at the Young Hospitality Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her group, which brought together students from four countries, proposed self-sufficient farming as a sustainable element in future cities.

A global conference, a divisive challenge: Hospitality student faces the fallout of “unaligned values” during group project

Asking young people from around the world to use their ingenuity to find solutions sounds easy enough. But what happens when some disagree with the premise? An FIU student writes about her experience.

April 18, 2024 at 10:30am

Imagine a room full of college seniors all passionate about the same field and each recognized for academic excellence. One would think such individuals, specifically chosen for their demonstrated commitment to their future careers, would produce the ideal small groups to work together on a unique project. Turns out, it’s not that simple.

In March, I spent three days at the Young Hospitality Summit (YHS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, among, as one guest speaker described us, “like-minded people” from more than 40 universities worldwide. I was selected as one of the three delegates to represent FIU at the event hosted by EHL Hospitality Business School, which is known to have the best hospitality management program in the world.

The summit gathered top industry professionals to discuss sustainability, technology, mental health and talent retention – critical topics for the industry and those of us about to enter it. During presentations from leaders within the lodging sector, we also learned about real estate and, to my surprise, something called “cognitive” cities. While many of us have heard about “smart” cities, which focus on data collection and application for efficient management, cognitive cities use technology to gather data for proactive decision-making or problem-solving. Neom, one of the summit partners, is already making this concept a reality in Saudi Arabia.

To envision what the hospitality industry could look like in that futuristic cognitive world, Neom presented the challenge we would be asked to work on for the next two days. My team - students from the United States, the Netherlands, France and Indonesia – had about eight hours to come up with “a pioneering, sustainable service model tailored specifically for Neom” that would “significantly reduce waste, energy and water usage.”


Group projects are always a challenge due to varying work styles and motivations among the participants. In this task, besides having to overcome time restrictions and cultural differences, we faced another barrier: unaligned values.

When my team met for the first time, our discussion – much to my surprise – revolved not around generating ideas for the project but instead focused on concerns surrounding the scale of Neom’s development as well as the company’s close affiliation with the ruler of Saudi Arabia. It seemed some delegates had trouble moving past the region’s history, politics and social issues, questions about which the Neom representatives sidestepped during the Q&A session.

In contrast to some European delegates in the conference room, I had never heard about Neom before the summit. My opinions on the company were inconclusive and solely based on the information shared by the representatives. While some of us were ready to start brainstorming, others felt uneasy about sharing potential innovations with Neom.

For me, the initial panic about developing an innovative idea in such a short time was the main concern. With so many directions in which we could go, how do we agree on the “winning” idea? Soon, however, I realized that my experience at FIU had equipped me well for the challenge of finding common ground with relative strangers.

For example, as the final project for one of the Honors College seminars, my professors intentionally grouped students in my class with others with whom they had never interacted. Similar to the YHS challenge, we were given a general prompt to see how we can use our differences to our advantage. As students of different majors – hospitality management, natural applied sciences and biochemistry - we immediately gravitated to different aspects of the prompt. In the end, our polar interests resulted in a multi-dimensional work that took into account diverse interests and talents. Reflecting on this prior experience reassured me that, facing the YHS challenge, we certainly could overcome differences in our backgrounds.

But what about the unaligned opinions and values? That was a bigger question.

Just like scientists who encounter ethical dilemmas, we had to weigh our priorities. Was leveraging the resources of an entity that raises ambivalent opinions worth putting aside our concerns in pursuit of potential advancement in the industry? With other key industry players attending the project presentation, we agreed our model could benefit the whole industry rather than one specific company. On the last day of the summit, we presented our innovative model to Neom - self-sufficient farms to feed the residents. We didn’t win the competition, but we achieved our goal of completing something meaningful that held real potential to become viable in the context of future cities. Who knows, one day, this model could lead to innovation, whether it would be one of us making it a reality or one of the YHS attendees taking inspiration from our idea.

As our world becomes more globalized, divided groups like mine will become the norm. We will be prompted to work in more diverse teams, which means more varying perspectives, various cultural experiences and even more unaligned values. While YHS turned out to be a unique experiment for me, it is likely all of us will have to undergo similar training to be better equipped for the world of tomorrow.