Concordia alumna, TingLi Lorigiano shares her travel exchange journey
Travelling across Europe, going on student exchange, learning a new language and starting a business all sound like goals many students have on their bucket list. One student not only managed to accomplish all these thing, but she did it in just one year.
Concordia alumna TingLi Lorigiano embarked on a year-long student exchange to Italy, during which time she also visited 30 cities in 10 countries. During her stay in Italy, Lorigiano founded Roma Experiences, the first Chinese tour operator service in Rome.
“I was at the Colosseum in Rome, and I realised that there weren’t any Chinese tour groups,” she said. “So, I inquired what the situation was like, and I decided that I would just start my own.”
Lorigiano is of Italian and Chinese descent and grew up immersed in both cultures. “I grew up with serious Chinese traditions and very traditional Italian traditions. I always had to explain Italian traditions to my Chinese friends and vice versa,” she said. “I felt that it’s important for Chinese visitors to learn about Italian traditions, so I wanted to help them learn about Italian culture.”
According to Lorigiano, no one working in the piazza of the Colosseum spoke Chinese—most were European. “There was a language barrier,” she said. “I connected the two worlds.” Lorigiano speaks fluent Mandarin and was learning to speak Italian at that time. She is now fluent in Italian.
She started by organizing tours where she would bring Chinese tourists to various restaurants and to visit historical sites such as the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.
With a major in genetic engineering and experience in the tech industry, Lorigiano had no problem setting up her own website and logistics for her business. After creating all the social media accounts, she hired 10 people to be part of her team. “I raised a team from one to 10 in my first three months in a country that I’ve never worked in before, and I didn’t yet speak fluent Italian. I hired tour guides and team promoters. We delivered wonderful historical experiences to Chinese tourists at least three times a day,” she said. “I had to be very meticulous with logistics. I had to buy tickets ahead of time, I had to know how the Colosseum ticketing system worked.”
According to Lorigiano, Roma Experiences has been running for the last eight months and has generated $40,000 CAD in sales revenue. “I was able to sustain myself for the last seven months in Italy. I used the money to travel, pay my rent, live in Rome,” she said.
The business is still running now that Lorigiano is home. The company’s vice-president took over the company. “It’s pretty cool to know that, before this year, in Rome, there were no Chinese tours available. And now they are,” Lorigiano said.
Creating Roma Experiences was an enriching leadership experience for Lorigiano. “It taught me a lot about business, and it showed me that my passions are not in tourism. My passion is in tech. I was way more interested in the website, e-commerce and the retail technology part of it.”
In November, Lorigiano is moving to London to work for a tech startup. “I knew that I wanted to work somewhere where the tech scene was more apparent, more vivid and vibrant, so London was the best choice for me,” she said.
Based on her experience, Lorigiano insisted that studying abroad can be life-changing. “You never know what is going to happen,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to go on exchange […] People grow up in Montreal, they work in Montreal, but there are so many other opportunities. Being Canadian, you have great visa opportunities as well.”
Lorigiano said she would advise students to check out all the job, volunteer and internship opportunities offered at Concordia to see what might interest them. “Make a list of things that you think are really important, and just highlight what you want to go visit or inquire about,” she said. “You need to think about what you are losing and what you are gaining.”
“You grow the most when you are put in the most uncomfortable situations such as travelling and being part of things that you are not comfortable with,” Lorigiano said. “It’s just a really great experience.”
Photos courtesy of TingLi Lorigiano