We are often told – when an opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid of pursuing it. Sugandha Dubey Mishra did just that. Her journey from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh to now being a French educator to students from across the globe is inspiring. A translator, interpreter, and corporate trainer, she also works closely with many embassies and international businesses, where her French language skills are sought after. In this candid chat with The Good Story Project’s Swati Subhedar, she gives us a peak into her profession and tells us how learning French, the language of travel, tourism, literature, international businesses, and diplomacy, will open new doors for students and professionals. Read this story if you want to be inspired to follow your own passion and carve out a unique path for yourself.
It was in the late 1990s when Sugandha Dubey Mishra was pursuing her Bachelors in Science at Agra University, she was told about French and Russian being taught at the Department of Linguistics at the University.
“When I look back, I laugh at the reason behind taking up French. They were charging just Rs 500 per semester, and I thought it was a modest amount to pay to learn something new! But I am so glad that I grabbed the opportunity. French has given me so much, but, more importantly, it has given me my identity,” said Mishra, 42.
The beginning of the journey
Mishra was born in 1980 in Jhansi, a historic city in Uttar Pradesh. The only child of her parents Giriraj Kishore Dubey and Madhuri Dubey, Mishra was born 20 years after her parents got married. Her father, a central government employee working with the Indian Railways, retired in 1995 when she was in the ninth grade. He decided to move base to Agra, a tourist destination around 200 kms from Jhansi, so that his daughter could have better opportunities.
Mishra was academically a brilliant student and after completing her plus-two, joined Agra University. While pursuing her Masters in Zoology, Mishra, then 17, decided to take up a job at a school to support her father financially.
“It was the school principal who told me about French and Russian being taught at the university. I surprised myself when picked up French so well that topped the university and scored 99.9%. My professor suggested that I move to Hyderabad to learn advanced French at a prestigious institute. Being the only child, I could not have relocated so far from my parents. Agra is a tourist destination and many of my friends were working as interpreters and translators, but that did not appeal to me. So, I decided to move to Delhi instead, join Alliance Française and take up a two-month course in French,” reminisces Mishra.
Small steps, big changes
Mishra excelled in that course as well and the institute offered her a scholarship to pursue an advanced course. “I could not let go of that opportunity. However, living in Delhi meant I had to take up a job to pay for my expenses. I rented a house in Noida and started working with a digital marketing company. I would wake up every day at 4:30 AM, reach Alliance Française, which was in South Extension in Delhi, about 15 kms from Noida, by 7: 25 AM. Then at 9:15, I would rush to my office and at night I would go back to Noida. Back in the 1990s, commuting in Delhi wasn’t easy, especially for girls, and Noida was not as swanky as it is today,” recalls Mishra.
All her hard work paid off. The institute offered Mishra, who was just 21 then, a job at the French embassy. “It was a proud moment for me. In the 1990s, medical and engineering were top career choices and my father wanted me to become a doctor. But I told him that I did not have the energy to dedicate an additional 5-6 years to academics,” says Mishra.
Mishra still remembers what her father told her. “He said you are all that we have, and we have put in a lot of hard work to get you to this point, so no matter what you do, make us proud. For me, the job at the embassy was that moment. However, there was a catch. For the first posting, I had to go to France. My parents, who were senior citizens, were not very comfortable with the idea of sending me all the way to France, so I had to put that dream on hold. I do wonder sometimes how different my life could have been had I moved to France, but I harbour no regrets,” she says.
Mishra continued to work in Delhi and joined a very reputed event management firm. In 2005, when she was 24, she got married and moved to Indore.
It is here when her life story would sound familiar to many women. Especially those who find that their careers take a back seat when they get married, and more so when they experience motherhood.
The next three years were like a roller coaster ride for Mishra. A year after getting married, Mishra’s daughter was born, however, the same year she lost her mother to cancer. The next year, her father passed away.
“Those years were tough, however, my husband encouraged me to start teaching French at home. The journey started with just one student. After my son was born, we moved to a township in Indore, and that shift brought along many opportunities for me. Many children, who were studying in reputed schools in Indore, and had French as one of the subjects, lived in the township. I started taking tuition at home,” says Mishra.
French all the way
Over the years, until the pandemic hit, Mishra taught French to many students and took up numerous projects and assignments with different embassies across the world. She worked with various firms and international businesses as a translator and an interpreter, and also as a corporate trainer. During the pandemic, when everything switched to online, it gave Mishra an opportunity to widen her horizon. Today, her students are spread across the globe in countries like Dubai, the US, the UK, Hong Kong, Canada, and India. Presently, she has more than 70 students under her fold.
Talking about why one should learn French, Mishra says: “Well, it’s spoken across five continents, 89 countries and is the official language in 29 countries. It is also one of the six languages of the United Nations as well as the Red Cross and the European Union and it’s the most learned language after English.”
The many advantages of learning French
Mishra is passionate about French, and for good reasons: “I can safely say that learning French will enable you to have a very secure and lucrative career. One that will take you places.”
She lists down some of the benefits of learning French. “On an average, one gets paid Rs 18-19 per word for French to English translations and interpretations. If you know French, you can get a job with any embassy in the world. You can be a French teacher or a lecturer. For those who are planning to study in universities across France, knowing the language would help them get good scholarships and campus grants. For instance, one of my students who went to study luxury management at Sorbonne University in Paris, got a good scholarship because she is fluent in French. Even those who want to work as lawyers, medical professionals, or software engineers in countries like Canada, where French is the official second language, knowing even basic French can boost your profile. So yes, if you are passionate and efficient, then after learning French, the sky is the limit.”
She adds that many creative fields like filmmaking and animated films also need professionals knowing French for services like subtitling and voice-overs. Also, French is a bridge between English and other European languages. So, if you want to learn any other language after learning French, it will be easier for you.
Learning French was indeed something unusual back in the 1990s. But how open are today’s parents in letting their children pursue a career after learning French? “Things are changing, and parents are more accepting if their children want to learn French and also pursue a career in it. Besides, there are many professionals now who know French and so they can guide those who are learning the language now. There was no one to guide us back in the day,” says Mishra.
Dearth of good teachers
The only issue, however, according to Mishra, is the manner in which French is taught in schools. “Many schools across the country, not just in the metros, but even in Tier I and Tier II cities, encourage students to learn French. However, we don’t have many good teachers. In most schools, teachers are teaching because French is part of the curriculum. They don’t tell them the benefits of learning the language and how it can help them in the future. It happens many times that those students who are good at French later don’t know how to make use of this added skill. Gradually, they forget and then all the efforts go down the drain,” says Mishra.
Mishra’s future plans include tackling this one important aspect. “I plan to conduct professional workshops across schools so that children understand how learning the language will help them in the future. It will really help the way they will approach learning the language if they know why they are learning it in the first place. Also, I am working on having a website of my own,” says Mishra.
Apart from her usual projects, Mishra also dabbled in French storytelling. While talking about the scope of the same, Mishra says we will have to wait for some more time before French podcasts, storytelling or poetry recitations become a norm. “We are gradually getting there, but we are not ready yet. These things are still in the preliminary stages in the country,” she says.
Lastly, being a pro, is there any tip that she would like to give to those who are learning French presently? “All students face a peculiar problem. Because they are also learning English grammar simultaneously, it can get a tad confusing. Sometimes, it’s amusing for me when even adults and professionals try to apply the logic of English grammar to French grammar and end up getting frustrated! I keep telling them that now that you are learning French, put your English grammar in a sack and throw it away!” says Mishra.
Sugandha Dubey Mishra lives in Indore. If you wish to get in touch with her, you can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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