Juhi Varma: Kenya Native Transfers to WSU to Earn Hospitality Degree

By Becky Kramer, Carson College of Business

Juhi Varma, a new hospitality business management graduate, came to Washington State University by way of Switzerland. When the Kenya native was studying at César Ritz Colleges Switzerland, a renowned international hospitality program, a wall dedicated to WSU memorabilia intrigued her.

The wall commemorates longstanding ties between César Ritz Colleges and WSU’s School of Hospitality Business Management. WSU students studying abroad in Switzerland get their picture taken at the wall with a life-sized cutout of Butch, the Cougar mascot.

When Varma started at César Ritz Colleges, she was part of a joint bachelor’s program where students can earn a César Ritz Colleges hotel and tourism management degree and a WSU hospitality business management degree.

Juhi Varma with chef Laurent Schatzmann in Switzerland

She eventually transferred to WSU, finishing her degree in Pullman. “Everyone I met from WSU was so proud to be a Coug,” Varma says. “I thought it would be so cool if got my degree here.”

Varma was the first student to transfer from César Ritz Colleges to WSU. Her time in Pullman gave her a strong foundation in the business side of hospitality, she says.

“From accounting, to business plans, to management courses, I was pushed outside my comfort zone,” Varma says. “The professors here encouraged me to think more, do more, and put my best foot forward.”

Culture shock and welcome in Pullman

Varma, 22, grew up in Nairobi, Kenya’s ethnically diverse capital, in a family of East Indian descent. She followed her older brother, a chef, to Switzerland to study at César Ritz Colleges.

Her internships confirmed she made the right choice.

“I liked helping people and giving them a good experience when they were on holiday,” she says. “And I enjoyed being a supervisor and leading a team.”

Varma arrived at WSU in January, 2018. She wasn’t prepared for the 21,000 students on the Pullman campus. At the César Ritz Colleges location where she took classes, she’d been part of a student body of about 200.

Despite the culture shock, “everyone I met was very welcoming,” Varma says. “They were interested in my journey – how I started out in Kenya and came to Pullman.”

Fueling ambitions in hospitality

The best of her WSU experience was working with other students on class projects, Varma says.

“You’re surrounded by all these hospitality students who have big dreams,” she says. “They not only want to work in restaurants and hotels, they want to run the operations.”

Their ambitions made her more ambitious, too. “I realized I can do so much more with the education and experience I’ve received,” Varma says.

After graduation, Varma moved to Georgia, where she’ll be a manager in training at a resort restaurant. She plans to open her own restaurant someday, although she’s not sure where.

“Time will tell,” she says. “I’m very lucky to have had the chance to study in Switzerland and Pullman, and meet these amazing people. I can’t wait to see where the journey takes me next.”