Whether you set out at the beginning of college to major in a foreign language – as College of Charleston alumna Stephanie Rhodes ’13 did – or whether you discover a new passion for another culture during your academic journey – as was the case for alumna Amanda Taylor ’08 – becoming bilingual or multilingual can give your career search a boost.
Several reports in recent years have highlighted the potential benefits of foreign language fluency, such as helping job seekers standout in a competitive market, boosting earnings, and even improving cognitive functions and delaying the onset of age-related memory loss. One recent survey found that languages majors are among the highest-paid liberal arts graduates from the Class of 2014.
For Rhodes, who studied German, and Taylor, who studied Spanish, learning other languages has been essential to their careers and continues to shape their futures.
Sprichst du Deutsch?
Even before she began looking at colleges, Rhodes knew that she wanted to eventually work for a German company. Her search led her to the College of Charleston after she discovered that South Carolina is home to a number of German companies, including BMW and Bosch.
“The College of Charleston was a perfect choice for me since it offers strong programs in German and international business, as well as a strong liberal arts tradition,” Rhodes says. “I was also attracted by the study abroad opportunities, especially the summer internship program in Germany.”
An Honors College graduate, Rhodes earned a bachelor’s degree in German and a second bachelor’s in international business with a minor in German studies.
Her fluency in German and knowledge of the country’s history and culture enabled her to network with members of the German business community in Charleston. Those interactions helped lead to her current position with IFA Rotorion – North America LLC, an automotive parts supplier headquartered in Germany. The company has a manufacturing facility in Ladson, S.C.
Rhodes handles special projects for the CEO as well as finance-related duties. She says her fluency in German has made her an asset to the company and its Charleston area operations, particularly in situations where language differences would otherwise present communication barriers.
Next year, Rhodes is relocating to the company’s headquarters in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.
Taylor initially planned to pursue a career in medicine. While at the College, she began volunteering at the Medical University of South Carolina to gain experience. At the hospital one day she was asked to assist by interpreting in Spanish, and the unexpected encounter steered her toward a new career path.
At the College, Taylor immersed herself in Spanish language and culture. She served as a Spanish tutor in the Student Learning Center, taught Spanish conversation classes, served as president of the Spanish Club and as a member of the Spanish Honor Society.
After graduating, she parlayed these experiences into a position as director of a language school operated by La Isla Magazine, a publication serving the Latino community in South Carolina and Northeast Georgia.
While she enjoyed teaching at the language school, Taylor decided after three years to continue developing her language skills by traveling to Brazil to learn its culture and its Portuguese language. After returning to South Carolina in 2012, Taylor began working as a paralegal for a law firm in Bluffton, S.C., that caters to the area’s Hispanic community.
“I have earned respect and gained trust from the local community, not only because I speak their language, but also because I understand their culture,” Taylor says.
In fact, Taylor has become so interested in immigration law that she plans to begin law school in the fall.
Studying and traveling abroad is an essential part of learning and mastering a new language, both Rhodes and Taylor say.
Rhodes spent almost an entire year of her four-year college experience studying in Western Europe, listening, speaking and observing native speakers. “Not only will speaking with natives greatly improve your language skill, but understanding culture can also be very useful in effective communication.”
Taylor agrees. In addition to her travels in Brazil after graduation, Taylor studied abroad in Chile while studying at the College. “CofC helped me truly understand that learning a language isn’t just about vocabulary and grammar; it is a full experience.”