Advice from Alumni
The Spring 2012 Alumni Career Panel participants made the following suggestions to prospective modern language graduates.
Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to explore your own interests.
Figure out where you want to go – country, region, small town/big city, etc.
While abroad, stay away from your comfort zone. Meet as many people that don’t speak English as possible, go out to the café or bar alone - you’ll be much more likely to meet people.
Speak in the local language even with the other English-speaking exchange students on your program.
Meet people on campus who are here studying from the location that you plan to go to before you leave. Not only will this help you to learn more about where you are going, it is invaluable to arrive already knowing a local friend. Often this can grow into your family away from home.
Culture shock when coming home is often greater than what you experience when you arrive to a foreign country.
Foreign Language Study
Getting in to language study was a fortunate accident.
Life is hard – language study can help you to adapt to and cope with life’s hard times.
Speaking a foreign language is my secret weapon – something as simple as listening to a French song can transport me to France in my head and empower me by helping me realize all that I have achieved to be able to understand the lyrics, and this experience makes me feel that I can overcome any daily difficulties that I am facing.
Try to understand the world from other perspectives to better understand yourself. Language study can provide you with opportunities for personal growth and self-examination that may help you develop a unique perspective about the way that the world works.
Study of a first foreign language prepares you to study other languages, but also prepares you in a special way to tackle unexpected challenges in your professional and personal life.
Language study can help you bring together things that you need and things that you love, maybe even your other half.
Foreign language study has made me more accepting of others and open to various situations, it teaches you to learn how to interact with people who are from different cultures.
Be mindful of your limitations.
Take advantage of every chance you can to use the language you have acquired through your studies. If you do not have the opportunity to speak the foreign language you studied at work, try joining a club or association in your area. As you already know, perfecting a language requires lots of time and practice. If you get away from it, it will eventually come back, but you need to very work hard to bring it back.
Read, watch movies, travel frequently, stay connected with friends overseas through Skype and other communication technologies, be prepared to make and take opportunities to practice your language skills.
Start thinking about life after graduation well before your senior year.
Be patient. Not everyone is lucky enough to get a job in the career field that they want as soon as they graduate.
Don’t feel overwhelmed – you’re all very young! You make it up as you go to some extent.
Learn how to network. Be organized. Know your deadlines. Always follow up. Websites like USA Jobs sometimes only post jobs for a few days. Be diligent in your search.
It takes time to sort out your interests and to identify your talents. Look for experiences that will give you the chance to explore yourself and grow.
Keep your eye on the prize – be mindful before you graduate of how you want to use your experience (linguistic and cultural) in the future.
It is important to not settle for a job that does not give you the experience that you are looking for. Once you have decided what it is that you would like to pursue, simply pursue it. Be prepared to start at the bottom. It is easy to get distracted and to be complacent with a job that may not be fulfilling but pays the bills, student loans and other miscellaneous expenses.
You have to create a narrative and explain yourself and how you mesh with the position that you are applying for. Experience abroad, language study, and thesis topics in a foreign language on your resume can all become conversation starters in the job search process.
Language study helps you to learn flexibility and adaptability - make sure to know how to explain these invaluable professional skills.
Working abroad makes you more confident in yourself by having to adapt to a new culture, but also by having to work in another language and culture. If it is your hope to work and live abroad at some point, do so as soon as you can upon graduating. The longer you postpone it, the harder it is for you to go.
Language study is a skill that helps you to interpret meaning from words – this has many different applications in the professional settings.
Take language competency exams to have on record – this can lead to specific work and even bonuses depending on your area of expertise.
The day after graduation – you’re never stuck, be practical, do temp. work while you’re looking for your dream job, focus on building yourself up.
Research books, websites and blogs like Delaying the Real World: A Twentysomething’s Guide to Seeking Adventure (2005) about abroad opportunities and funding. The possibilities are limitless: Peace Corps, Fulbright, internships, non-profits, teaching English, etc.. The sooner you start thinking about this the better.