It was my Senior year in college. I was to graduate in June, with a handy B.A. in French Literature. The college, well-intentioned, sent me off to the Career-Counseling office for the requisite pep-talk about making gainful employment once I moved beyond the ivied walls of my alma mater. Only small ivy, not Big Ivy.
I waited nervously outside the cluttered office of Mr. Your Future Life, wondering what reprimands and ominous tales of doom he would have for me as he perused my pitiful résumé. "Ardent perma-francophile" was all it read: French major, French table, French dorm, French teaching assistant, French runner-up prize. A stint as a newscaster at the college radio station and waitressing in the faculty dining hall were my only transferable skills.
Finally he escorted me into his inner sanctum and patronizingly had me sit in a low-slung chair. Tossing my folder aside, he returned to the barkalounger behind his desk. He leaned waaay back, propped his feet up high, hands clasped behind his head of thinning gray hair, and asked, "Guess what my major was in college?"
OK, well, I was a little stumped at this point because I thought he was supposed to be telling me how to earn rent money a few months hence.
"Umm, I don't know," I ventured.
"I was -- a Frrench major!" he announced, with a smirk and a wink.
I have never in my life had concomitant urges of vomiting and manslaughter. What the HELL was that supposed to mean? That I should become a guidance counselor? Why should I be reading a thousand pages of French fiction per week, writing a thesis and cramming for oral comprehensive exams four months in advance if my future was as a paper-slave in human resources?
Granted, I had macheted my own fate earlier that year when I applied for a Fulbright and made it to the finals. The results were looking promising until I adamantly informed the interviewers -- professors all -- that language instructors should teach only in their native tongue. Funny, I never heard from them again.
The rest of the chat with Mr. Future was a blur, basically him telling me that unless I wanted to go to translation school, I should try to land "any job" that might have an international department and wing it from there.
Perhaps I was so traumatized by the encounter that I've been spending the rest of my life trying to prove him wrong. Perhaps he was handing me a dish of his own sour grapes. I knew intuitively that there were many paths to take with a freshly-minted degree in French literature. I just wanted help from someone who had forged the way.
Ugh. Spring semester of Senior Year. All my parents' friends and my friends' parents asked, "So, what are you going to do with a degree in French Lit? Teach French?"
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved and admired all of my French teachers from seventh grade on -- blessed, brilliant saints, every one -- but I simply didn't want to become one. It was a quirky personal issue: to me there was something surreal about the concept. Studying French to become a teacher to to teach students to study French so they could become teachers to to teach students to study French... well you get my drift. I knew that French was relevant! I knew French was useful! I just didn't know where to start, and Mr. Sour Grapes really skimped on the practical advice.
Alas, at the time, there was no internet, thus no fabulous website to turn to, as there is now, called "Why Study French?" with excellent resources and reasons for studying French and using it in the Real World.
Now a few decades beyond college, my French-major pals have taken various career paths: publishing, wine industry, photography, teaching, non-profit administration, international real estate, parenting, banking, marketing, interior design.
And ...blogging in Paris.
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