2022 - Winter

Emails, General Assemblies and Unlimited Cappuccino – An Interview with the Department Secretary, Patricia Mascia

Image: © Patricia Mascia

Author: Katharina Schwarck

On a sunny Tuesday morning, I meet Patricia Mascia. You may not know who she is but she is one of the most important gears of the English department, without whom it certainly would not work as well as it does. 
Maybe you know her under a different name.
Ever gotten an email from “secrétariat-anglais”? Yupp, that’s her.

So, on that sunny Tuesday morning, she welcomes me in the English department’s common room and offers me something to drink. I am excited to have a chat, get to know her better and ask her all the questions that the MUSE team has prepared for this day.

We sit down.

“Hi! Are you ready?” I ask her. “Could you introduce yourself to our readers in a few words?” She gives me a warm smile. “My name is Patricia Mascia, I’m 36. I grew up near Morges. I did quite a lot of gymnastics until I was 20 and I like sports and reading.” We discover that we grew up in the same village and get excited about it for a few seconds. After I’ve told her very specifically in which house I grew up, I ask her to tell me about her work and responsibilities. She explains that her “tasks here are mostly helping with administrative matters, both in the English and the Italian section. The preparation of exam sessions is a big part of my job, too.”

“What would you say is the best part about your work?” I ask her in response. “I would say it’s the multilingual aspect of the job. I really like speaking English, Italian and French every day. It’s cool. Also because I think here people are just really kind and it’s a nice environment to work in.”

“So you speak English, Italian and French!” I get excited about her multilingualism. “Could you tell me a little more about your linguistic background?”

“My mother tongue is French, I learnt Italian and English at school. I wanted to become a translator so I’ve always liked foreign languages. It’s like a passion. After high school I entered the university of Geneva in Translation Studies. I finished my BA in 2010. After that I got married and had children so I had kind of a break there. I was my husband’s company’s secretary until last year but I missed speaking foreign languages so I began doing substitute teaching in schools in both English and Italian and I liked it! Because of that I tried to enroll in the HEP in Lausanne. As my background was mainly linguistics, I was asked to do literature classes here at UNIL. So I did crédits complémentaires in English and Italian, 40 ECTS credits. I finished in 2019. I thought it was so cool so I did one year of master’s classes in English until I saw the job advert for my current job last year. So my parcours isn’t very straight-forward!” She chuckles. We shake our heads at all the stories we’ve heard from people having to retake credits to enroll in certain schools. I realize that she knows the department both as a student and as a staff member! “Yeah!” she laughs. “I knew the teachers from a different point of view.” 

Not being able to let go of the topic of languages, I ask her a follow-up question: “If you could learn any language instantly without having to learn it, what language would that be?” “Chinese,” she tells me. “I’m not sure why. Maybe because I find the signs, the way it’s written, fascinating.” I nod with approval, but before I go even more astray asking her even more questions about languages that I was not sent here to ask, I ask her if her secretary job at her husband’s company was her first job. She tells me that was indeed her first full-time job but that she had had a few small jobs while studying. When I ask her what she did more specifically, she lists working at Coop and in a bakery on the weekends. A quite typical student experience.

For my last work-related question I ask how she prefers to work, independently? Or as a team? “Independently,” she tells me honestly. “I’m a very independent person. I think it’s partly because I’m not able to delegate and I like to organize my time.” I tell her how relatable she is and that it’s hard to delegate when asking someone else to do something takes as much time as doing it ourselves. She strongly agrees. She adds “it’s problematic though because sometimes you feel like you would need help but you’re not able to ask.” Very understandable. We conclude that we do our best to learn how to delegate and, who knows, maybe one day we’ll be able to do it!

“Let’s move onto my less work-related and weirder and funnier questions,” I suggest. “What’s your favorite thing about Lausanne?” “I think I like its dynamism,” she decides. “A lot of events take place here. I like the energy of the place.”

Picking up on the fact that she said she liked to read and, well, works for the faculty of Arts, I ask her what she likes to read more exactly. “Life stories and biographies,” she lists as her favorite genres. She elaborates “You can learn from someone’s experience, so I really like that.” “Do you read in several languages?” I ask her. “I would say English and French and a little less in Italian.” At this point I tell her how impressive I find it that she works in not one but two of her foreign languages. She modestly tells me that she finds English to be her weakest language and that she wants to improve. “You know,” she recounts. “In Translation Studies, it’s always written, you never have to speak. It’s quite different skills that are required and you always translate from the foreign language into your mother tongue.” “Did you translate into both English and Italian?” “Yes, and Spanish. I did Spanish as well.” One more language! I am impressed.

“Are you watching any TV shows at the moment?” She tells me that TV shows aren’t really her thing but movies are. Romantic movies, to be specific. As the holidays are approaching and many of my friends are already suffering from (or enjoying) Christmas-movie-fever, I ask her if she’s a fan of them too. And yes, she watches Christmas movies, indeed!

I warn her that I’m about to ask her a very, very specific question. “What is your favorite seasoning or spice? Fitting with the whole Christmas theme she tells me “I love cinnamon and cinnamon-scented candles!” That sounds lovely and I now crave cinnamon. “Are you a dog or a cat person? Or perhaps a bird person?” I continue with my rather specific questions. “I’m more of a dog person,” she first says. “Even though we have a rabbit at home! I could be a rabbit person?” We agree that we don’t really talk about “rabbit” people and that we love dogs but that they are a big commitment so we don’t have any at the moment. 

I ask her a question that I am very excited about: “If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you choose?” I give her some time to think. “Maybe cappuccino!” she laughs. How very relatable. (Is anyone else craving cappuccino with cinnamon right now?) “I really like your answer!” I reply. “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” I enquire. “If you’re talking about a public figure, I would say Nelson Mandela. I admire him for his courage.” “And if you could teleport anywhere right now, where would you go?” Her eyes light up: “On a sunny island!” “You’re not a winter person?” I ask her. “No, not at all!” We laugh together about how nice it would be to be in a really sunny place right now and get our vitamin D. We complain about daylight savings: “It’s only one hour but it’s so difficult”, Patricia tells me. “It’s 6 pm and I want to sleep! It’s frustrating.”

For my last question in this interview, I ask her what’s an easy way to do something nice for someone. “I think the simplest things are sometimes the most appreciated: a kind word, a little attention. Sometimes I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes to try to think of something that could be helpful.” Following that sweet answer, I thank her a lot for the lovely chat and the laughs and I let her go back to her work.

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