Updates from our students alumni: a degree in Spanish or French has helped their professions

Kathleen O’Connell (Spanish)

I am currently working as a Placement Specialist at LASPAU: Academic and Professional Programs for the Americas, which is a non-profit affiliated with Harvard University.  I work with scholarship grantees from Latin America to help them find the best academic and financial fit and place them at U.S. universities, and I use my Spanish in this position on a daily basis.  I also work part-time as a freelance translator and proofreader for a Peruvian translation agency, where I worked on a variety of finance, legal, and government-related documents.  And, when I have free time, I also volunteer as a translator for Kiva.

I think that Geneseo and particularly the Department of Languages and Literatures provided me with the tools needed to succeed in my career.  As a Geneseo student, I pursued a double major in Spanish and International Relations, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.  I was a member of the Sigma Delta Pi honor society and was president of the Phi Sigma Iota honor society.  I also had the opportunity to participate in a direct immersion study abroad program at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (UFSQ) through SUNY.  Then, as a senior, I spent two months in Nicaragua during the pilot phase of what is now the Service Learning Program in El Sauce.  These experiences, coupled with my job as a student at the International Student Services Office at Geneseo, led me to pursue a career in international higher education, focusing on Latin America.  Since graduating, I have worked with international students, U.S. study abroad students, and have taught English abroad and rated English proficiency exams.

I think that there is a stereotype that a degree in a second language isn’t useful or that it is only relevant if you want to be a language teacher, but this is a large misconception, especially given that we are living in an increasingly interconnected world.  My brother has even told me that the one thing that he wishes he had done was continue with Spanish after high school, presumably because he has come to realize the benefit of knowing a second language since he entered the job market.  In my case, I started at Geneseo with the intention of being a high school Spanish teacher, but found along the way that there are many other ways to incorporate Spanish into your career, and I have found working in international higher education to be the best fit for me.

To contact Kathleen, email her at kathleen.oconnell@hotmail.com

Ellyn Jameson (Spanish)

Last year I founded a non-profit here in Peru, called AbrePuertas. We run a community education center in a rural community outside of Cusco. There are afterschool programs for the kids, and workshops and classes for adults and teens. We believe the best way to lift a community out of poverty is to empower them through education, and we aim to make it more accessible and exciting in places where the public education leaves a lot to be desired. I direct the day-to-day activities of the project, including planning and running workshops, coordinating volunteers, writing grants, doing PR, fundraising, and talking with the community members.
Geneseo got me to go to Peru! I came here as part of the study-abroad program to finish my Spanish minor as well as the study abroad requirement for my International Relations major, and after finishing decided to start my non-profit. And while I know most people won’t take that kind of step, I still highly recommend the study-abroad experience- it gives you a broader world view, and you have tons of fun experiences and form great friendships. The Spanish program in Cusco program was wonderful (and intensive!). I can’t recommend study abroad enough, and if you come to Cusco, you can volunteer with my project, too!

Study abroad was definitely my favorite part of my experience with the Languages/ Literature Department.

Having a degree in a second language is so valuable! Working in Peru I naturally use Spanish everyday, but I have also found it useful for translating documents and in general being able to communicate with more people. Even if you don’t speak perfectly, putting forth the effort and showing that you value communicating with them goes a long way to establishing trust and making someone feel comfortable. Languages are FUN, and provide a lens into a country or culture. Learn as many as you can!

To contact Ellyn, email her at ellyn.jameson@gmail.com or visit her non-profit at www.abrepuertas.org

Erinn Kehoe (French and Spanish)

After having the opportunity to spend a year working as an English teaching assistant in France, I am back in the US with a job as an administrator and ESL teacher at a private language school in Albany. I work with potential and current students to organize private and small group classes, and I teach English as a second language to children and teenagers. I have the opportunity to use my knowledge of French and Spanish every day to communicate with my coworkers and students.

I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the excellent study abroad opportunities that were available to me at Geneseo. Without my time abroad, I would not have had  either the skills or experience necessary to spend a year working in France after graduation or to get the job that I currently hold. I have also found the critical thinking skills that were necessary in every foreign language class to be useful in my French and Spanish classes in both my professional and personal life.

My favorite experience at Geneseo was the opportunity to study abroad. Although it was a challenge to fit in with all of the courses required as a double major, my professors and the department staff were very helpful and accommodating. My time abroad was unforgettable and gave me the chance to grow in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I had spent all four years of my studies in western New York.

A degree in a second language opens up a wide range of opportunities, both in the US and abroad. Even in fields not related to language or international relations, employers see it as proof that you’re independent and self-motivated. Studying a second or third language also provides a sensitivity and openness to other cultures and ways of thinking that’s valuable in any field.

Cladia Plantin (French)

I work for City Year, a non-profit organization that provides help to high risk, low-income children and their families in urban settings through academic support, attendance and positive behavior encouragement. With a commitment to service, the organization advocates and promotes tolerance and equality by leading programs that teach elementary, middle school and high school students about how to be active citizens in their communities.

The Department of Languages has really helped me throughout my four years in Geneseo. Their mentoring, guidance and constructive criticism have been instrumental in the achievement of my academic goal. The professors made themselves available as often as possible and provided prompt responses at my queries. Whether it was career exploration or a letter of recommendation, they were always willing to go above and beyond.

My favorite experience with the Department of Languages has to be the enriching learning environment that it fostered. The expertise and the dedication of the professors in the subject matter were impressive. Classes were very engaging and purposeful.  The professors catered to different learning styles and brought with learning a sense of self and growth. The professors were my friends when I needed one. They were always available to help me and challenge me in ways I never thought possible in my field of study.

A degree in a second language opens doors to a wide variety of possibilities, including multicultural exchange and additional career opportunities. In today’s global economy, remaining monolingual limit professionals in achieving their career objectives and their ability to set themselves apart from other potential employees seeking the same position.

Jeremy Stillman (Spanish)

I am a Research Associate for the Progressive Radio Network (PRN), an online radio station based in Manhattan. In my position, I write articles and investigative reports on a variety of topics including health freedom, complimentary and alternative medicine and global environmental issues.  I work closely with the radio network’s founder, natural health icon, radio host, documentarian and author, Gary Null. I also collaborate with a team of documentary and radio program producers as well as social media specialists to present the most current research on these issues to thousands of radio listeners and website visitors each week.

In college I majored in Spanish and International Relations. Reflecting on my time at Geneseo, especially my involvement in the Department of Languages and Literatures, I recognize just how much it expanded my worldview and set me on a path of personal and professional success. A formative experience for me was when I studied Spanish abroad in Costa Rica for two months. This immersion experience deepened my command of the language and gave me the chance to witness firsthand the cultural dynamics we had discussed and analyzed in the classroom back in Geneseo. I was so inspired to explore more that, upon graduating, I spent five months teaching English  in a small village in the south of Chile.  One year later, I traveled to Seville, Spain where I worked in a hotel for three months. These experiences abroad were so much more meaningful because of the quality education I received from Geneseo’s passionate and knowledgeable instructors.

I can confidently state that my degree in Spanish has opened doors for me professionally. After graduating I worked for a nonprofit healthcare company in a position where I was routinely called on to act as a translator. In my current job, I rely on Spanish and my foundation in Latin American studies to communicate with certain company partners and broaden the scope of my research.

A degree in a second language is immensely valuable. From an employment standpoint, it significantly adds to your attractiveness as a hiree and affords you the luxury to choose between many fields of work. Beyond that, it helps you to form meaningful relationships with individuals from across the globe, opening you up to a wealth of enlightening and wonderful experiences.  With a degree in a second language, you much more easily make the transition from a tourist and an outsider to a traveler and a friend.

To contact Jeremy, email him at JeremyAStillman@gmail.com

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