GCC travel award opens doors for Michelle Scully

October 28, 2009

Last spring, Michelle Scully wasn’t thinking about going to France, she was busy studying health science at Greenfield Community College, working at Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, and caring for her family. Then she checked her email and saw a message about an essay contest for Student International Travel Awards for GCC students to study French or Spanish in another country. Her first thoughts were, “I can’t do that. I have kids, I’m married.”

GCC student Michelle Scully in France

Those weren’t her last thoughts about the Travel Awards. Michelle isn’t studying French at GCC, but she studied it for six years in high school and as a high school senior had been offered a full scholarship to study in France. Her parents said, “No.” After that missed opportunity, Michelle had never traveled outside of New England. Now, years later, a new opportunity had presented itself and Michelle went for it. She wrote the essays, was interviewed, and was one of two students granted an $1,800 award.

Michelle decided to study in France, and Charlotte Gifford, GCC’s Chair of World Languages, helped her choose a three-week immersion-based program and plan her trip. The Institut Français Des Alpes in Annecy, a city at the base of the French Alps, included language and culture classes five days a week, weekend field trips, and staying with a host family. It was a big decision for Michelle to spend time away from her husband, Jeremy, and sons Andrew (9) and Lucas (7), but Jeremy strongly encouraged her and Andrew and Lucas were excited their mother was following her dream.

At first, traveling was terrifying for Michelle, especially when she got lost for several hours in Geneva, Switzerland after the long flight from the U.S. But Michelle found her way to Annecy and quickly regained her language skills, communicating well after just a few days. She enjoyed her host family, Sylvie and Bernard Manet and their three children, Audrey (20), Elodie (17), and Thibauld (12). The Manets included Michelle in their mountain climbing, kayaking, and biking trips and served her many traditional meals. Along with family trips, Michelle went on school-arranged field trips to Lyon, Beaujolais, Mt. Aravis, Talloires, and Geneva, Switzerland.

Living with the Manets and studying with students from around the world was eye-opening for Michelle. She said, “It was wonderful to stay with a family where everyone bickered, laughed, and loved each other. We became very close, are staying in touch via email, and I hope to take my family to visit them. I was in class with students from Hawaii, Utah, Pennsylvania, New York, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Thailand, Japan, China, Cambodia, Italy, Turkey, Canada, Russia and Greece. Most of them were far younger than me (between 15 and 19 years) and there was some generational gap, but it was amazing to hear about their lives. One girl left Turkey with her family to escape an arranged marriage.”

This fall, Michelle is home with her family and busy with work, studying toward an Associate Degree in health science, and applying to the Associate Degree Nursing Program. Thinking back on her time in France, Michelle knows she did more than improve her language skills. She said, “It has empowered me, it was such an enriching life-changing experience. I couldn’t have done it on my own without the funding and Charlotte guiding me through the process. The most important thing I learned was that I can change and grow as a person and professionally. Before, traveling was intimidating, but this is just the beginning. It has opened up doors and given me the confidence to get on a plane and go explore.”

To learn more about the College’s Student International Travel Awards, contact Charlotte Gifford at (413) 775-1227 or gifford@gcc.mass.edu.

By Mary McClintock ’82