Third-year resident, Rachel Keirse, just signed on the dotted line for her fourth and final year as a French House resident. A busy student to say the least — with double majors in Information Systems and Management & Human Resources, a certificate in French, advanced proficiency in Chinese, and a dizzying level of involvement with a few student organizations and extracurricular activities — Rachel does not slow down. But she did have time for a few questions and we’re happy to share her answers with you.
You’re studying Information Systems and Management in the School of Business. What are you learning and what do you hope to do with this knowledge after graduation?
Information Systems is essentially learning how to store data and make it accessible. I’m learning how to act as a liaison between the managers of a company and the technical experts and developers. In my management courses, I’m learning about managing organizations’ structure. Since I’m graduating with a BA in Business Administration, I also get to learn the fundamentals of accounting, finance, and operations management. I chose Information Systems because I think technology and data are a growing topic of importance, especially for employers. I’m hoping that these skills will give me more leverage to choose where I want to go. I’m looking at a company called Micron right now. They’re one of only four companies that make memory for computers.
Despite not majoring in French, you chose to live at the French House. Why?
One of the deciding factors for me to come to Madison was the French House. I knew I didn’t want to major in French because literature is not my cup of tea. But I really cared about speaking the language and developing my oral communication skills. I saw living here as a way to maintain my proficiency in French and to apply my skills in the real world. If you don’t use it, you lose it!
Why did you choose to live at the French House all four years?
At this point, the French House is really my home. I’ve been living here for three years now. Not only that, it also has a great location and is very convenient. I also love my room! One of my favorite attributes is that if you want people to talk to, or hang out or study with, they’re there. We have 30+ residents so you can walk out of your room and have that social interaction. At the same time, if you want to be by yourself, study alone, or eat alone, it’s perfectly acceptable. I appreciate that because I need a lot of time for myself but it’s comforting to know that when I want and need a community, I have one here.
For the past three years around the holidays, you’ve been organizing a secret gift exchange among the residents, which I hear everyone enjoys. Why is this important to you?
I organized ‘Secret Santa’ as a freshman. I think it was an attempt to bring all the housemates together that year because a large portion of the house was a little bit older, and then there were lots of sophomores, so it was really cool to see the whole house come together and bond over that experience. Even though we don’t see each other all the time, it made it feel like a community.
The French House often hosts events and meals for guests from the campus and the community. What do these visits mean to you?
We have people come every Wednesday for dinner and Friday for lunches, and high school students visit regularly as well. I really enjoy Wednesday evenings because, it’s weird to say, but I feel like it’s more real. It no longer feels like a college bubble because we get to interact with families and people who are all different ages. It feels like the real world. And I enjoy meeting new people. I also really like talking to those who are learning French who come to practice and build their skills. I have teaching experience so it’s fun for me to use that and encourage them. I enjoy helping them learn, especially when they want to!
You’re also studying Mandarin. How is that language, or learning the language, similar to or different from French?
In terms of learning Mandarin, I actually think it’s easier than French! I’ve thought a lot about why this might be and I think it’s because of the way of thinking. In French, I’ve really struggled to be able to write authentically, especially business emails, because it’s like poetry! I find that the French typically use a lot of what we might call “fancy” words to make one point. With Chinese, it’s very simple and direct, and you recycle the same words. You can make your point very simply and quickly, which I think is more on par with American English. It’s easier to think in Chinese than in French, and it’s pretty easy for me to switch between them.
Do you think your language studies complement your studies in the School of Business?
Yes, because business is essentially about relationships. I think something powerful about languages is how, when you learn them, they can really help you build deeper relationships with people. There’s something about being able to converse or bond with someone in another language. You’re not communicating in your mother tongue and so you’re also showing that you’re putting forth an effort, that you want to learn about other cultures, and I think you get a lot of respect for that, which is important in the business world. Even around Americans, when they know I can speak French, Chinese, and Spanish, I think they respect that. In the business world, building trust and respect is very important. Relationships are key.
You work with the Accenture Leadership Center within the School of Business. What do you think makes a good leader?
I would say there are three characteristics that make for a good leader: authenticity, being proactive and having a vision. I think that anyone can be a good leader. If you’re introverted, for example, you don’t have to start speaking really loudly. You should be sincere and authentic to who you are. Then, being proactive doesn’t have anything to do with your current position. It means if you see something going on or something to improve, you should step in if appropriate. That is, if you see something and know you can change it, or make it better, you should do that, that’s good leadership. Lastly, on having vision, I recently attended the Leadership Institute summit and something that really challenged us was developing our own vision for the world. Through that exercise I learned how important it is for good leaders to have vision.
How can students hone their leadership skills on and off campus?
There are a ton of resources on campus. The Accenture Leadership Center is one. We also have the Willis L. Jones Leadership Center which is part of the Union. There’s also this really cool leadership workshop I just found out about called Leadership Improv. Off campus, I would say, find an organization or company to get involved in because you’ll be able to learn a lot by observing others. You’ll learn what makes for a good and bad leader, develop your own leadership style, and build skills in a group setting.
What’s one thing you hope to achieve this semester?
I want to make friends with more younger students, like sophomores and freshmen. I already get that opportunity in the UBC Mentorship Program. I think it’s important for me because a lot of my friends are graduating and it’s going to be really sad next year if I come back and don’t know anyone! It’s also fun to get to know the younger students. Different perspective.
Any advice for students thinking about living at the French House or learning a language?
For living here, I think students should really understand that the house is a community. It’s not an apartment or dorm, it’s a community. As for learning a language, I would say definitely try to get as much real-life application as possible. Find people who speak that language fluently, practice with them, travel to countries that speak the language if you can, listen to music, watch movies. Personally, I really like TV shows, so I watch several series that are popular in Spain and China and that’s really engaging.