Erica Forster, a 2013 graduate of the BA program in French, is the subject of the current edition of “Alumni Spotlight”. Erica lives in Paris, France, and is the Operations Manager for The Tour Guy guided tours company. French Professor Suzanne Toczyski interviewed Erica via Zoom.
While you were at SSU, did you have an idea of what you’d do after graduation?
I knew I really wanted to do something with my French and I was very interested in teaching. But I was not 100% sure I would teach when I was at SSU – I also looked at the wine industry or other industries that would lead to using French. I definitely wanted to go back to France either for more education or for job opportunities.
How did your studies or activities at SSU influence your future job choices?
I was a language teaching assistant in the language lab – I helped with tutoring and worked with French classes. All of this gave me a good perspective on teaching and helped me to see that I enjoyed it. I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris and that year cemented the fact that I wanted to spend more time in France and continue my international experience.
Tell me about your trajectory after SSU.
After SSU, I took a year off before applying to a Master’s Program. During that year, I did private tutoring on an almost full-time basis while living at home. At the same time, I was finishing my community service project for my Global Studies major: I volunteered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Sacramento, teaching English to refugees, helping them to apply for jobs, etc.
In Paris, I began with a six-month internship in international communications and translation working for Keolis, a French transportation company. I worked for them for six months as part of an international team, but mainly with French colleagues. The internship gave me a lot of perspective into French and international work culture. It also gave me experience in translation, but I came to understand that translation is a very independent kind of work and I’m more of a social person.
I then found the job I’m currently doing: I am the Paris Operations Manager for The Tour Guy (https://thetourguy.com/tours/paris), a tour operator that plans trips throughout Europe (Italy, France, London & Barcelona). Since I’m the only employee based in Paris, it’s intense --- we run guided tours of all the major tour sites in Paris (the Louvre, Versailles, etc.) as well as food tours. I do many different kinds of tasks, starting with hiring and scheduling tour guides, some of whom are French, and some international. I am also in charge of ticketing and reservations with all major museums, and I work frequently with restaurants to schedule food tours. I also schedule river cruises. Basically, I do everything that makes the operations roll. The high season is intense compared to the off season. I really like the job because you get to help people experience Paris, the number one most visited city in the world, and I get a lot of joy out of that.
How did you find your internship and your current job?
I found the internship by looking online for companies who wanted to hire someone bilingual in French and English, and I applied for it from the U.S. I found my current job via Indeed.com
How is working in an international setting different? What challenges or benefits have you found?
Culturally there are some aspects that are very different – customer service, for example. We try to set up top-notch guided tours, and we want clients to be happy, which means we need to communicate the kind of experience we want to give the clients to French service providers (tour guides, restauranteurs, etc.). Sometimes they just come back with, “This is how we do it.”
One major benefit is that in France, everyone has five weeks of paid vacation. The French enjoy more of a work-life balance. However, in Paris at least, they finish work a lot later in the day because they take long lunches. I would prefer the more typical American half-hour or hour-long lunch with the option to finish early.
Has your French major helped you in your career?
Well, the language itself, of course. But studying French or a foreign language in general offers so many opportunities to meet lots of people, and to travel, as well as helping to cultivate an open mind. Because there’s not just one career path that you pursue when studying French, my studies allowed me the wiggle room to explore a bit more.
What advice do you have for current students?
First, don’t be afraid. If your dream is to focus on language, don’t be afraid to do that. People thought it was strange or useless for me to study French, but I don’t feel that way at all. It’s been life-changing for me, and has really defined who I am. I would have been very unhappy if I had decided to major in something else and just minor in French – I feel I would have been betraying myself.
However, combining French with another major is a big advantage. I was a double major, in French and Global Studies (and had considered Wine Business as well). Unless you know you definitely want to be a French teacher, it can be useful to have a second major, especially in the eyes of those people who look at resumes when you’re on the job market.
What do you see yourself doing five or ten years from now?
I do plan to move back to the U.S. to be closer to family, although I will still be returning to France to travel. I hope to teach full-time. Although I really wanted a different experience before settling into teaching in the U.S., I have continued to tutor students from California while I am in France via Skype. If I don’t find a teaching position when I return, I will pursue options in the business world, since my current job has prepared me well for that as well.