Leaving Mount Holyoke after last month's commencement, California native and Romance languages major Allison Soto '11 looked forward to the next chapter in her life, hoping to teach English in Spain and pursue a master's degree in literary translation. Still, in the bittersweet moments of leaving her college years behind, she couldn't help but think back to where she was and what she was doing at this time last year--spending most of the summer in a castle in France.
With the help of the McCulloch Center's MHC International Internship Program, Soto landed a position at the Château de Chantilly, a historic chateau in Chantilly, France. The Château de Chantilly is home to the Condé Museum, which holds the largest collection of historical paintings in France after the Louvre and one of the finest collections of illuminated manuscripts and precious ancient books. The château attracts approximately half a million tourists each year.
The eight-week internship gave Soto the opportunity to practice her foreign language skills. Already proficient in French, she found herself dealing with tourists who spoke neither French nor English; as a tour guide, she had the chance to speak to visitors from Spain and Italy--something she appreciated because of her background in Romance languages. And she found other learning opportunities.
"Working at the chateau gave me knowledge of various pieces of art and how each piece was influenced by the culture and history of the time," said Soto. "It was such an honor to work in a place with so much history and to be able to communicate that history to tourists from all over the world."
By communicating with those tourists, Soto realized the importance of English in the world. "It really astounded me how English is the common language between many foreign countries," she said.
In addition to her work in the museum, Soto assisted the staff in the events and marketing office by helping to translate their website into English and in setting up a gala dinner. After spending her junior year abroad in the south of France, she felt the internship in the northern city of Chantilly exposed her to a different side of French culture.
"It allowed me to see the differences and similarities in architecture, landscape, and language," she said. "Being close to Paris was an added bonus."
There were also some regular reminders of home, she noted: "I was surprised when giving tours to Americans that the majority of them had heard about or knew someone who had gone to Mount Holyoke."