Photo credit to Rick Schaefer

The Importance of Languages

The Importance of Languages

Recently, I have been reflecting on how ingrained languages are in our societies, and how vital they are to connecting emotionally to other people.  It seems odd that relatively few people pursue languages as an essential skill rather than as a luxury or a hobby.  After all, emphasis on languages has far reaching and surprising effects.

The value of speaking a second or third language is obvious for certain career paths, such as international affairs or any academic research that requires in-depth study of a foreign culture or history.  For example, it makes sense that an anthropologist studying Incan cities in Peru would learn Spanish in order to interact with local experts.

Less obvious is how helpful speaking another language is even if a career field doesn’t currently require proficiency in multiple languages.  The process of learning a foreign language establishes millions of new neural pathways, making it a mental gymnastics exercise.  Those who speak multiple languages are more capable of approaching problems from new angles, and those who regularly use their skills to translate from one language to another exhibit higher academic performance and self-efficacy.  Interestingly, children who are raised in bilingual households will start speaking later than children raised in monolingual families.  But once they do start speaking, they will be equally fluent in both languages.

With the world’s increasing international interdependence, all careers will soon benefit from and even require multilingualism.  For all of us who were raised only speaking one language, it’s not too late!  Keep studying other languages; it’s definitely worth it for your brain, even if that language doesn’t currently seem useful in your everyday life.  Besides, it’s fun!

Refugee Crisis Poster

Reflection: “Refugee Crisis”

Reflection: A New Century: A Refugee Crisis or the Future of the Global Political Landscape?

Taylor McKenzie’s lecture, billed as an examination of the impact the current refugee crisis in Europe had on his own Fulbright research in Germany, was highly anticipated; the sheer number of students who attended the event was overwhelming, with students overflowing the available desks to sit on the floor between tables and crowding along the room’s walls.  Yet McKenzie’s lecture lacked focus or any clear message, other than that he had studied squatters in Berlin.  Despite his eye-catching lecture title and the immediateness of this issue, he was unprepared to actually lecture on the topic and instead spent the majority of his time showing clips of his own and his friends’ documentaries.

However, it was extremely empowering to see how interested OU students and professors are in this topic.  The turnout was far greater than expected, and despite McKenzie’s disappointing lecture, many of the attendees raised extremely well-thought-out questions after the talk itself had ended.

Based on these questions, most of the attendees were hoping for McKenzie to offer an insider’s view of Germany’s reaction to the recent influx of refugees.  Since he had lived in Berlin and studied the squatters there for his Fulbright project, he would have been well positioned to critique how the new refugees compare to past immigrants.  The students were also curious about how Germany’s relative openness to refugees compares to the US’s reluctance to accept more immigrants.  If McKenzie had talked about future policies that both Germany and the US could implement, as well as given a more concrete, insider’s analysis of the German’s reaction to these refugees, the talk would have been more satisfying.

Photo Credit to William Valdes

Global Careers

Global Careers

No matter what major or career I settle on in the long run, I am determined to continue emphasizing multinational work and foreign languages.  I hope to live abroad after I graduate, both on a Fulbright research scholarship to work on my Masters degree and to simply experience life as a local resident in a foreign country.  I am therefore extremely interested in career options that would have either enough flexibility for me to move abroad, or that would have such a vital international component that I could justify such moves as “required for my work.”

In order to adjust to life in new countries, the experiences that Global Engagement provides me with will be vital, from learning foreign languages—something that I am extremely passionate about to begin with—to breaking down cultural barriers, to adapting to life in new places.  Having emphasized these qualities in Global Engagement throughout my college career, I will be far more prepared to live, study, and work abroad than other graduates who are inexperienced with traveling to and learning about other countries and cultures.

Careers today emphasize and require more international work than ever before, although some fields excel in cooperating while others continue to remain focused on competition.  If I remain in aerospace engineering, I hope to work towards a truly international, collaborative space program.  Modern space programs maintain the “us against them” mentality of the Cold War’s space race.  In order to successfully progress into space, we need to move beyond this aggressive model and work together.  In this way, my goals of learning languages and living abroad will mesh extremely well with my career path.