YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A handful of York College of Pennsylvania students returned in late January from a whirlwind month in Dubai. The four students are Hospitality and Tourism Management majors, and they spent January learning the ropes of the industry abroad.

This is the first year York College has offered the program. A large portion of the funding was provided by alumnus Sanjay Parekh, who owns some hospitality-related businesses in Dubai. Students said this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sophomore Gia Levis, junior Molly Kihn, and seniors Julia Milligan and Elizabeth Helmick are the four students who spent a month in Dubai, learning the culture and workflow of their industry in an entirely different country.

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All four worked in various restaurants in the city, working in different positions including hostess, waiter, food runner and even handling reservations behind the scenes.

The students said it opened their eyes to how their industry works overseas.

“The restaurants are constantly changing, so that means changing their menus every couple of months, every so often,” Levis said.

Helmick, who handled reservations for three different restaurants said, “I got to learn kind of the back end of all three of the restaurants, I had to understand their policies and everything that went into how they book.”

For Helmick, Levis, and Kihn, this was their first time out of the country.

“I was absolutely thrilled to hear about an opportunity,” Helmick said, adding her family did need some convincing. “I ran straight out of there, and I called my mom, and she said, ‘No way.'”

Kihn and Levis said their families also had some reservations but realized it was an opportunity to good to pass up.

The four students noted they were surprised by how diverse Dubai was. They all said their coworkers hailed from several different countries in Asia, Europe, and even South America.

“I’ve never heard, like, so many languages in one place in my life and so many different accents,” Kihn said.

Levis added, “That was actually my favorite part of the experience, was getting to interact with such a diverse culture.”

While they were in the city to work, the girls took every opportunity to explore.

“My favorite I think was the desert safari,” senior Julia Milligan said. “You got to go on a camel ride.”

Kihn said they also visited the Dubai Miracle Garden and the Burj Khalifa.

The food was another highlight — both from the restaurants they worked at and beyond.

“I think our favorite was Trove and their hummus, and I’m not a hummus person but that hummus, I could eat for the rest of my life,” Helmick said.

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The students said they hope others will follow in their footsteps. They said this is an amazing opportunity, and they said it is important to go in with an open mind.

“My advice is go, experience as much as you can while you’re there, this is, you don’t get to do this every day, obviously,” Kihn said.

York College professor Fred Becker said they do hope to make this an annual program.