Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has provided college students with internships and employment opportunities, including part-time jobs such as bilingual receptionists, for many years. Bilingual receptionists translate for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) while also assisting passengers with the Automated Passport Control (ACP) and global entry kiosks. The receptionists, who are the first greeters passengers meet upon arriving in Philadelphia, are a part of the Passenger Assistance team and work under the Guest Experience (GX) Department at PHL. The bilingual receptionists provide incoming passengers with translation assistance, including navigating the airport. Over the years, the college student bilingual receptionists have made their mark at PHL and have grown both professionally and personally from their experiences.
Nicole Tirado, a digital marketing media strategist at Univision, recalls her time as a Spanish-speaking bilingual receptionist stating, “It was one of those experiences you look back at and smile about. That opportunity helped me get a marketing role at my company. I was able to network with my peers. This role gave us college students a balance and gave us opportunities to grow.”
Tirado worked at PHL from 2014-16. She feels the experience taught her patience, compassion, and adaptability. Using her language skills, Tirado was able to assist people from Spain and Ecuador, as well as other Spanish-speaking countries.
“Passengers felt at peace, supported, and just glad that they were not alone,” said Tirado. “It was very rewarding.”
Asmaa Mountassib, who now runs a baking business from home, greeted incoming passengers in Arabic. She shares the same sentiments as Tirado.
“Being a bilingual receptionist for PHL was the highlight of my working career as a college student,” said Mountassib. “I gained a better understanding of how language can be a barrier and how it’s important to have interpreters. Our translation skills were important.”
Mountassib, who also began at PHL in 2014, believes working as a bilingual receptionist allowed her to improve her customer service skills and understand how airports work.
“My fluency in Arabic gave people a sense of comfort and connection especially because as an Arab and also a Muslim, one can feel very isolated and the ‘odd’ one out,” said Mountassib.
Personally, Mountassib has grown from her work at the airport in several ways. “My experience at PHL has helped me as a friend, business owner and mom - all of which being able to connect with others is an important part of the job,” she said.
Similarly, Maurice Mendez (shown above during his PHL career), a Gas Distribution Engineer at Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW), recalls his experience as a Spanish-speaking bilingual receptionist in a positive light.
“I was able to learn to go above and beyond to help someone in need of assistance,” said Mendez. “Learning to be empathetic to someone who is anxious, frustrated, scared, angry, is a skill that I still use to this day in my professional and private life.”
Mendez began his career at PHL in 2012 and recalls the Passenger Assistance team coordinating the arrival of up to 3,000 passengers through the Customs Hall. This experience taught him how to keep his cool under pressure and how to be a team player.
“We learned how to work as a team with people with from different cultural, social, and political views,” said Mendez. “I still interact with some of the people I worked with at PHL. We have become great friends.”
After his experience as a bilingual receptionist, Mendez participated in two summer internships with PHL's Engineering Department, while attending Temple University. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, he served as a project engineer and project manager at PHL for over a year-and-a-half. During this time, he was directly involved in several multi-million-dollar capital development projects to improve and maintain the airport's existing infrastructure. Mendez is thankful for the diversity of his roles and responsibilities he had throughout his eight years at PHL.
“This experience prepared me to be an effective, passionate, concept-oriented individual,” said Mendez. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunities provided by PHL. I hope to be an example of what can be accomplished when a city invests in its youth.”
The bilingual receptionist position at PHL is a two-to-four-year program open to college students. It provides a flexible schedule, as flights arrive at different times.
“I would absolutely encourage any college student in Philadelphia to reap the benefits of this program,” said Mendez. “This program is beneficial in easing the burden associated with furthering one's education, and it provides real life skills to students that they can use in their professional and personal lives.”
Mendez currently plans the pre-construction phases of projects at PGW to provide natural gas to new customers in Philadelphia. He also replaces existing gas infrastructure while prioritizing safety.
“I am grateful that I am able to continue directly assisting Philadelphia residents in the public sector,” said Mendez.
Applicants interested in applying for open bilingual receptionist positions can do so here.