Maria Gonzalez- French

February 8, 2023
Maria Gonzalez

Maria Gonzalez graduated from Sonoma State in 2011 with a BA in French.

While you were at SSU, did you have an idea of what you’d do after

Not really, actually. When I first started, I didn’t know what I wanted my major to be. I was thinking of Business as a major so that I could go to school for only four years and then get a job. I was undeclared for a while. I also thought of Sociology. Maybe a year or two in, I did go the Business path, but I also started taking French in my first semester, and then kept going and thought, maybe I’ll do a minor, and then I kept going and thought, maybe I’ll do a major! I enrolled in French because only Spanish was offered at Geyserville HS, but I wanted to learn a different language. I just fell in love with French and wanted to keep studying it. I was born in Mexico, so Spanish was my first language and we still speak Spanish at home.

How did your studies or activities at SSU influence your future job

Being a Business major and taking the advanced classes, I reached a point where I had to decide on what aspect of business I wanted to go into. I was never a numbers person, but when I took an HR course, that really decided me to go into Human Resources because HR prioritizes people. I liked this aspect and it felt right for me. The fact that I speak Spanish was also beneficial for that kind of career. With French, I initially worked in a winery and I thought maybe French would be beneficial in that area, or in international business.

Tell me about your trajectory after SSU.

It was lucky: when I was a senior at SSU, taking the Senior Sem for Business, Dr. Armand Gilinsky sent out an email to all his students about a job opening at Fetzer Vineyard. I was about to graduate and the job required all kinds of things, like three years of experience, which I didn’t have, but it also required you to be fully bilingual, so I applied and ended up getting it. I graduated and went right to a full-time job. Over time, I was able to grow my role within the organization, but I started first as an HR assistant, which allowed me to learn about and have experience in that field. I eventually became an HR specialist, which had more responsibility and autonomy. I stayed for Fetzer for seven years, but in the end, I wasn’t totally fulfilled and wanted to contribute more to the world, and there wasn’t a lot of room for growth. So, I started to look for something different.

A friend told me about an organization called California Human Development, and I kept my eye on them for a while. When a position in HR opened up just pre-pandemic, in 2019, I applied and got the job there. It’s a non-profit, which is the flip side of the coin. In the wine industry, you are working with farmworkers but the focus is the bottom line, whereas CHD is a non-profit that helps farmworkers, providing resources, affordable housing, and job training for them, to help them move up. So, this new job allowed me to use my HR experience, but in a different way. We help farmworkers train for new positions that will give them better pay and help them live more fulfilling lives.

Has your French major helped you in your career?

A lot of good things came from my French major, but in particular, my love for film. I really study and delve into cinema. While I was studying French, I saw The Double Life of Véronique by Krzysztof Kieslowski, which taught me look at film in a different way. Movies also help us develop our language skills, but in my case, French also developed my love for movies. I learned so much about movies I never would have discovered otherwise. I am a member of a movie club, and we watch a lot of French movies. These really opened my world, especially movies by French women directors like Claire Denis and Céline Sciamma, and I now go every year to the Sundance Film Festival.

French also allowed me to express myself in different ways and to rediscover my love for Spanish. Writing in particular reawakened my love for language in both French and Spanish. Now, I’m a pretty advanced level writer and speaker of Spanish and people come to me with grammar and writing questions and to ask me to proofread documents. I was so shy when I started at SSU, and group presentations were so hard for me, but now I can do those without any issues. It’s funny how things develop once you’re out of college and you allow your skills to flourish. I also work with someone who has lived in France and who is bilingual, so I get to practice with him.

What advice do you have for current students?

You don’t necessarily need to know what you’re going to do right away when you start college; sometimes you just fall into the right place. There is so much pressure put on new college students about choosing a career path. Don’t stress so much about that. Know you have some of the best professors and are learning, and you will eventually fall into the right place in your career.

Studying a language is so important. It opens up a different world view and teaches you to see things from a different perspective. Not the encapsulated view through which we see things in this country, but from a much broader point of view.
What do you see yourself doing five or ten years from now? I’m working in a path of succession, doing succession planning for the organization I’m in. This means that I work for the HR director there, and she is training me to succeed her in that position eventually. I would love to be the head of HR at this non-profit because I love what I do and it’s close to my home – my dad and grandpa are farmworkers. The environment is really warm and nurturing, and I do see myself spending the rest of my career there.