Mireille at the La Bastide Saint Antoine property

Student works 12-weeks in France in the hotel industry

Mireille Baxter came to DU with the idea that she’d like to combine her love of travel with her career.

“I want to visit different countries while I’m young and I want to see the world,” she said.

Baxter started out as an international business major but quickly realized she was studying more about governments and politics than she liked. Her Daniels College of Business advisor suggested she try hospitality management instead.

“I didn’t even know this existed, but it was more of what I was thinking of,” Baxter said. “I love the school; there are so many opportunities.”

One opportunity is really a requirement. All students in the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management are required to study abroad. Baxter really wanted to use her study abroad to intern as well.

Lauren Sepúlveda, associate director of student services, enrollment and marketing at Fritz Knoebel, thought Baxter could be a good fit for a program through Access Internships Worldwide, which provides international work opportunities. Baxter was given a job at La Bastide Saint-Antoine, a boutique hotel in Grasse, a city in southern France.

Mireille in downtown Grasse

“We take the time to evaluate which students would be the best fit for these opportunities,” Sepúlveda said. “These students have to be resilient.”

Sepúlveda knew Baxter had grit because she didn’t sail through the program.

“I hadn’t done so well in some of my classes and had to retake three of them, which was a first for me,” Baxter shared. “Lauren was a great coach and mentor. She pushed me to do better.”

Baxter spent her first two weeks in France in Montpellier in a language immersion program. She had taken French in middle school and was getting a minor in the language at DU.

“I met students from Spain, Germany, Singapore and just all of these different places around the world. The one thing we had in common is that we were all learning French,” she said.

Following the language training, she went to Grasse to begin work. She worked 35 hours a week, spending her days in housekeeping and evenings at the front desk.

La Bastide Saint Antoine

“I worked as a receptionist checking people in, sometimes answering phone calls, which I failed miserably at,” she admitted. “I could barely understand people in person, but to hear a totally different language, really rapid fire, asking questions on the phone … I’d often have no idea how to respond. It was definitely a humbling experience.”

Baxter experienced difficult work situations and loneliness. It was her first time traveling abroad alone for that long. But, she did not give up.

“It probably took me the first five weeks of the nine weeks to feel like, ‘OK, we got this,’” she said. “It gave me a new sense of empathy for a lot of people that come to the U.S. for the first time.”

Baxter tended to the 16-room property Friday through Tuesday, so on her off days she had time to take the train and explore other cities like Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo. In her final week in France, she met her mom in Paris for vacation. By then, she knew how to navigate the country.

While Baxter admitted the experience wasn’t always easy, she’s glad she did it.

“I know that going into the future, regardless of what I do, I’m always going to be able to have this experience in the back of my head—I did more than I thought I was capable of,” she said. “I think the most important thing is for people to know that there is no perfect study abroad, no perfect program. I was homesick; I missed my family. Those are all valid things. But embrace something new and know there will be good and negative emotions as part of the process.”

Baxter had an additional learning moment too. She quickly figured out she loved the hospitality industry but did not want to work in hotels. Her passion is the beverage industry, and she wants to become a sommelier.

“She’s pursuing additional educational opportunities in the beverage space outside of what we offer,” Sepúlveda said. “And, we offer a lot! Just seeing her grow has been incredible.”

Baxter graduates in June 2023. She’s been selected as one of two Fritz Knoebel students who will travel to Italy right after Thanksgiving. 

“I struggled a bit with confidence, but I think because of being on my own in France, I realized that I do have the skills and the capability to go far in this industry,” Baxter said. “My internship inspired me to go for it.”