Alumni Profile • Heather Saxton ex'94
Embracing Italy

Heather SaxtonJanuary 12, 1996. Heather Saxton ex’94 remembers the date she arrived in Rome. It felt, she said, like an immediate fit at a time when she didn’t know where in the world she belonged. “I fell in love with Italy and Italians and never went back.”

Her stay was supposed to last four months, a semester of study offered by Loyola University in Chicago, Saxton’s hometown. She had gone back to Chicago after two years at Calvin followed by four months of working with her uncle, a missionary, in Bosnia and Croatia. Ill at ease in American culture after that experience, she saw a poster at Loyola for the semester in Italy and signed up on the spot.

The fit isn’t really so odd. Saxton’s grandparents are Italian. Family weddings included dancing to the tarantella, and Saxton grew up knowing the Italian as well as English words for many household items.

Still, she spoke no Italian other than those few words when she arrived in Rome over eight years ago. Now she not only speaks fluent Italian but also owns and operates a company whose business is the intricacies of that language — and several others.

Expression is the name of Saxton’s translation and interpretation service. A one-woman manager, she employs some 80 translators and interpreters, most of them in Italy, but some as far away as New York and Canada. Over the Internet Saxton sends them assignments translating everything from legal documents and highly specialized medical information to retail Web sites. Usually the translations are from Italian to English, though Expression advertises translation services in all the major European languages. And Saxton will consider taking on a translation between any two languages; her network is vast enough that she could probably find someone to translate from, say, Chinese to Swahili.

“I adore my job because I meet so many different kinds of people,” Saxton said. “I’m getting a constant education in international culture.”

Expression is the second generation of Saxton’s venture into Italy’s business world. It began, under a different name, as a teaching service. After her semester with Loyola was over, Saxton was determined to “do whatever it would take to stay in Italy.” She enrolled at John Cabot University, an American university in Rome, majoring in international relations, and, to pay for it, began teaching English. She found that her studies in law and economics gave her teaching services particular currency with Italian business professionals, who hired her to teach employees the specialized English of their trades.

Firms where she was teaching began to ask Saxton to translate documents. Over time the teaching dropped away, and demand grew such that Saxton herself now does no translation, but works instead managing the flow of documents among her many clients and collaborators.

But all of that is evolving again, and again the reason is Saxton’s embrace of Italian culture. She is moving to Naples to be near her Italian fiancé. While she will continue her translation business there, she’s also laid the groundwork for a new venture: a “language laboratory” that will teach English to Italian two- to eight-year-olds through activities, crafts and music.

Through all the changes behind and those she sees ahead, a constant for Saxton has been the fit she felt on that January day in 1996. In Saxton’s words: “I have no intention of leaving Italy.”

To learn more about Expression’s services, see