By Rachel Levitt
To say you majored in history or Italian or geography--nearly any liberal arts field--used to be to admit you studied what you loved and future employment be damned. But three recent graduates of the University's Department of French and Italian have proven that sticking with what brings you joy can lead to gainful employment as well as a lifetime of discovery.
Using her skillsAMY BEIER MEYER Like many Americans, Amy Meyer (née Beier) started learning a second language in junior high. "I love learning languages, and French came easily to me, so continuing my studies [at the U] seemed the natural thing to do," she says. She also took her education one step further by studying in Nantes, France. Her time abroad made such an impression that she returned to the United States motivated to find a job that would allow her to speak French "so I wouldn't lose the ease of speaking that I had worked so hard on during my year abroad and during my studies at the U," says Amy.
Amy worked at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, an organization committed to promoting and protecting human rights around the world. Though the largest immigrant populations in Minneapolis are Somali and Hmong, Amy worked with French-speaking Africans from Guinea, Togo, and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Her background in French and Francophone culture helped her to understand the immigrant experience and the difficulty that immigrants have adjusting to a new culture, often without their families.
Though Amy has already extensively used her undergraduate skills, she left Minnesota for New York University in fall 2006 to start a master's degree program in international education. Her goal is to work with study abroad programs to encourage college students to have the same experience she did. She summed up her enthusiasm by saying, "I feel strongly that, despite the ever-growing prevalence of English, students still should take the opportunity to learn other languages. Languages, and the relationships and experiences that they bring with them, enrich one's life in so many ways and truly transform one's perceptions of the world." She credits the University's French program, along with her time in France and her work with Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, as having had a direct influence on her new career choice and the direction her life is taking.
Le mot justeAMBER SHIELDS While studying French at the University, Amber Shields picked what some would consider a more "traditional" route for a language major: translation. Interested in and adept at other languages, after graduation she went to work as a quality control specialist at Merrill Brink International, a large business-orientated translation company. There she reviewed translations from many languages, including French, Chinese, and Russian. During her senior year of undergraduate studies, she began working with a French author named Jacques Jouet to translate his novella, Sauvage.
Amber has since come back to the U to pursue an M.A. in linguistics. In addition to taking classes, she works at the Learning Abroad Center, dealing specifically with the Study Abroad in Montpellier program. Since she participated in that program during her undergraduate years, she loves to see other students go through the same experiences she had. She even gets to use her French speaking skills occasionally, a wonderful perk for her.
Amber's experience with the French program has served as a catalyst for other linguistic pursuits. "I enjoyed my studies in French so much that I also began taking classes in Spanish and Russian," she says. Amber loves to travel, and is constantly searching for new and different music and literature from around the world.
Second chancePHILIP BRADLEY Soon after his retirement in 2000, Philip Bradley went on vacation to Italy. Though he had visited there a few times before, it was on this trip that he fell in love with the language and culture, which got him seriously thinking about going back to school to learn more. "Since I was now retired, I had plenty of time to learn the language!" he explains. Philip's interest in Italian was so strong that he jumped right into the program, starting with Italian 1001 and working his way up to take all the Italian language and literature courses he could. One of his first literature instructors, Elizabeth Teefy, encouraged the members of the class to take advantage of the many study abroad programs the U offered. She sparked something in Philip, and, as he says, "I began to dream." He searched for programs open to nontraditional students like him, and decided on the Bologna Cooperative Studies Program at the University of Bologna.
Unlike some other study abroad students who take most of their classes in English, Philip chose to take all of his classes in Italian alongside the other native students. He knew that after spending a year in a foreign country, "there was no academic challenge that I couldn't handle." Philip recently started graduate school at the U working toward a master's degree in liberal studies where he's studying literature about wisdom--or aphoristic literature--(a subject popular in Europe but relatively untouched in the United States).
A few short years ago, Philip could not have predicted ending up where he is today. But, he is so happy with where his Italian studies have led him, he wouldn't want it any other way.