A Rare Achievement
Kathryn Hays has achieved a rare feat: The Simpson junior is one of a select number of students chosen to serve as interns this semester in the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. "They only accept two or three," she says. Appropriately, Hays was in France this August when she received an email saying she had been selected. "I was screaming," she said. "I was downtown, and we went out and celebrated that night. When my French friends found out, they did a huge cheer at the bar."
The journey that took Hays from her home in Macomb, Ill., to the French Embassy is not quite as far as one might think. Her mother, Kim Johnson '79, teaches French and Spanish in an Illinois high school, and used to sing songs in French to Kathryn when she was a child. Once Kathryn learned the language herself, mother and daughter could carry on conversations that her father, Mike, couldn't follow. "He gets so confused," Kathryn said, laughing. "He gets really annoyed." At Simpson, she is majoring in international relations, political science and - of course - French. She also is a Culver Fellow.
Hays felt confident in her ability to speak French. But writing it was a different matter. She discussed her frustration with Sharon Wilkinson, professor of French. "Sharon is amazing," Hays said, "She was so helpful. I came in the second day of class my freshman year and told her that I was confused about grammar. She made me an online class with practice exams regarding basic conjugation." Wilkinson returns the compliment: "Kathryn is such a motivated and outgoing student. She's never been afraid to tackle a challenge, even if it will require a lot of hard work."
Hays has visited France five times. The most recent came during a Study Abroad trip to Inge. She enjoyed it so much, she and another American friend decided to spend the summer on the island of Noirmouteir, working as au pairs. "We were the only two Americans on the island, so it was a total cultural immersion," she said.
Kathryn is such a motivated and outgoing student. She's never been afraid to tackle a challenge, even if it will require a lot of hard work. Hays had consulted with Wilkinson and John Epperson, professor of political science, about applying for the French Embassy internship program through the Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP). They told her to try, but also to keep in mind how difficult it is to be accepted. "I had to write my cover letter in French, so it was helpful to have my host family give me advice," she said. "I sent in my application on the day that France won the World Cup."
While in Washington, D.C., Hays will work at the French Embassy four days, then spend Friday reflecting and taking field trips with other CHIPS interns. "I feel like this is the most qualified I could be for a position," she said. Wilkinson agreed. "Kathryn definitely took full advantage of the opportunities she had in France to make connections, work on her language skills and deepen her understanding of French culture," she said. "She made her Study Abroad experience into one that will open doors for her long into the future."
Hays spent a few days on campus before having to leave again. At Stand Around, whenever her friends saw her talking to a first-year student, they told them, "This is Simpson success right here." Asked what her dream job would be, Hays did not hesitate: "Being the U.S. ambassador to France. I've made it into the building. That's pretty good."