Flavien Joubert’s life has been a fascinating one. Long before this prominent hospitality professional became Principal of the Seychelles Tourism Academy (STA), he experienced, at the tender age of 17, a dramatic and unexpected journey, learning a few unforgettable life lessons in the process. Today, as he leads the Academy into the future, Joubert calls upon the lessons learned so long ago to inform his leadership as he helps to equip each new cadre of hospitality management professionals for the demands they will encounter in their work.
Seychelles Tourism Academy (STA), an internationally recognised institution specialising in tourism and hospitality training, is seeing the success it enjoys today in large part due to Mr Joubert’s tireless efforts. The Academy provides its students with a rich, multi-dimensional educational experience which includes internships with overseas hospitality partners. The outcome are high quality professionals with knowledge, confidence and the practical skills to enter the exciting field of hospitality management and tourism. Much of this success is directly attributable to the dedication and work of Mr Flavien Joubert.
Scholarship in Cyprus
Joubert’s journey into the hospitality field began at age 16 with a scholarship offered to the Seychelles government by Archbishop President Makarios of Cyprus in 1973. This scholarship enabled young Flavien to attend The Hotel and Catering Institute, a prestigious boarding school located in Greek-controlled Nicosia, to pursue a five-year course in hospitality.
The young student found the school’s accommodation and spacious grounds impressive, luxurious and well-maintained. He describes his experience with warmth, despite this being a period of Cypriot unrest, “Though the school had only one controlled entrance and was well-guarded, I was privileged and very happy as a young Creole boy from the Seychelles to be a student in this very prestigious boarding school in Cyprus.”
A Friend to Greeks & Turks alike
As young Joubert pursued his studies, he befriended both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, visiting their homes, growing close to some of their parents and families, learning about their customs and enjoying their ethnic delicacies. His friends were both male and female, and this group of 10 students spent a great deal of time together, picking fruit and visiting taverns, cinemas and their favourite discotheque.
One friend introduced the young Flavien to martial arts, and the two would secretly slip on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve T-shirt under their school uniforms, since they were required to wear their full college suits whenever they left campus on a pass. After they had gone a safe distance from the school grounds, they would secretly remove their uniforms and stash them under a hedge, safely concealed in a plastic bag, until they were ready to return to school. Just as one might expect, they were eventually caught and grounded for a month.
However, life was good for the hospitality students, and young Flavien was popular among his friends—well-known as the Creole boy with the beautiful Afro hairstyle. Joubert explains what made this period even more special: “Loved by all my friends and adored by the most beautiful Greek Cypriot Goddess on earth, life was just an amazing experience”.
Changes Afoot: the joy before the war
Little did Joubert and his friends know during that delightful summer of 1974 that things would soon change dramatically in Cyprus. At the time, about 35 students from Joubert’s school had been recruited to work during the summer holiday at the new Golden Sands Hotel which would soon be opening right on one of the most breathtaking beaches of Famagusta. Joubert was among the selected group of multi-national students.
For three glorious weeks, the new recruits lived in luxury in the hotel’s lush guest bedrooms whilst training in different departments under French and British patissiers and chefs. Here, too, Flavien was popular—especially among the French chefs, since he spoke French. It was also at this time that he was given the nickname “Karate Jim Kelly” since he resembled the Afro-coiffed actor, Jim Kelly, who played opposite Bruce Lee in the martial arts film “Enter the Dragon”. Yet, Joubert’s closest friends called him “Flavios”, the Greek form of “Flavien”.
When the hotel opened, Joubert and seven friends rented a flat, spending every night dancing at the discotheque downstairs, drinking Coca Cola and Sprite and having lots of good, clean fun. Joubert describes it this way: “There I was, a young Creole boy in Cyprus with a group of great friends in the summer of 1974. Every day was a new experience and an adventure, 17 years old, free will, no parents, no guardians, alone with plenty of friends and making the most of my teenage years.” In short, young Joubert was living the life every young person dreams of. The fun was not destined to last.
In the middle of that summer, the trouble began. The Greek Cypriots overthrew President Makarios. Soon after, the Turkish Cypriots requested help from Turkey to depose the Greek Cypriot interim government, and on 20th July 1974, mainland Turkey sent Turkish troops to invade Cyprus.
Life Interrupted by War
Soon, Famagusta was under attack, with fighter jet bombings every night. After a few days of watching the bombings and rocket attacks, Joubert and his friends felt the time had come to escape before the Turkish ground troops moved in to capture the town. Joubert explains: “All Greek Cypriots shook hands with Turkish Cypriots, there were hugs and tears as we knew that Greek Cypriots were now going to join the Greek Cypriot Army while the Turkish Cypriots were now going to join the Turkish Army. There I was the young Creole student in the middle.”
Reality soon overtook Joubert, who describes the predicament in which he found himself and shares one of the cruel ironies of war: “It was in the heat of August 1974, and I had become a war refugee. My government in Seychelles, parents, friends had no news of my whereabouts. My Greek Cypriot friends and Turkish Cypriot friends were now enemies because of this terrible war and were shooting and killing each other, while others were placing land mines to dismember and kill each other.”
Joubert was interned as a refugee and moved from camp to camp, along with other refugees. He describes the scene: “Food was scarce and sanitation was basic. As we moved to safety, bombs would be dropping not very far from our camps.” Despite being forced to endure the summer heat sleeping in tents without bathing, dehydrated, hungry, thirsty and dirty, Joubert never lost hope. Instead, he became “a star in the refugee camp”.
As he describes it: “I entertained, told jokes, told my refugee friends that we would all survive this war and go home. I told them beautiful stories about Seychelles: the beautiful lagoon, sun, sea, tortoises, fish, Coco de Mer, bananas and our beautiful multi-coloured inhabitants. The stories helped them to forget about the situation that we were in.”
When he was finally rescued and flown to Great Britain in a Hercules British Air Force plane, Joubert says, “I prayed every day and every night to thank God for me being in this British Air Force camp. I prayed for my friends I left behind and I prayed for the war to stop so that I would be able to carry on with my studies.”
Soon Joubert’s prayers were answered. He was reunited with his older sister in Brighton, England. No longer a refugee, at 17 years old, he decided to stay in England to resume his studies. After graduation, Joubert worked in Seychelles, Singapore, Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Mauritius, La Reunion, Melauri and South Africa, before settling in his long term role as Principal of the Seychelles Tourism Academy.