Panelists discuss the practical value of foreign language skills

On Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at 4 p.m., the Pugh Center gradually filled with students, professors, and other members of the Colby community for the Personal Leadership and Foreign Language Use in the Global Workplace panel, sponsored by the Career Center. When the panel started, there were only a few chairs left empty.

An email from the Career Center email to the Colby community states: “Join alumni, students, faculty, and staff for a career panel discussion focused on the themes of how second language acquisition and international understanding have enriched the lives and careers of four panelists…. Join the panelists for a reception following in the Blue Light Pub, 5-6 p.m.” Panelists included Cross-border E-Commerce Advisor for SkyPostal and the former Director of Postal Affairs at the U.S. State Department Dennis Delehanty ’74; Grossman Professor of Economics Patrice Franko; Associate Director of Engagement and Annual Philanthropy and Director of Alumni Programs Dan Olds; and Audrey Wade Hittinger Katz and Sheldon Toby Katz Professor of History Professor Raffael Scheck. Department Chair and Professor of French Bénédicte Mauguière moderated the panel.

Mauguière began the discussion by introducing each panelist in detail, from his or her academic achievements to the reason that he or she was on the panel. Each panelist spoke for ten minutes about his or her own experiences with foreign languages in the workplace. Franko began the conversation, saying, “I use my Portuguese… most surprisingly to me, when… I had a Fulbright in Brazil [and] when I arrived, started to meet my class—which I was supposed to teach in English—and opened with a conversation in Portuguese, turned to the economics, and suddenly the class’ face went, ‘Oh my God.’ There were only two in my class who had the English language proficiency to actually follow what was going on. So, that was a great challenge… I had to learn to teach in Portuguese.”

Scheck spoke next. “Kids beat me up everyday on the way to school [and from] school because I was a foreigner. I did not speak the language. The world in which I grew up, there was not much racial difference, but the way you sounded was absolutely essential, and the fact that I was a foreigner who did not speak French, and also the fact that I was a German—I was called Hitler all the time—was a pretty bitter lesson,” Scheck said. He continued to explain that he went on to learn French, Italian, English, and Croatian through immersion and lessons from educators and students. At the end of his ten minutes, Scheck said, “My work over the last 13 years would have been impossible without that French and German knowledge.”

Olds told his story next: “For me, language study was not a natural kind of activity… but what language did for me was open up all kinds of doors. One of the things here is personal leadership, and for me it’s about experiences that you’re able to have because you know another language and you get to interact with other people as part of that experience. You build new interpersonal [and] intercultural skills when you have another language, and that can help you in so many different ways later in your life.”
Delehanty closed the first part of the session. He said, “I stand before you to today as someone who has made languages an important part of a professional career in government just to demonstrate to you that yes, it is possible, and languages are very useful in government and business careers.”

Once Delehanty finished speaking, Mauguière opened it up for a question and answer session, which lasted for approximately 20 minutes. The Q&A was lively and students asked intelligent questions such as, “If you could learn any language right now, which would it be?” Laughter rung throughout the room and a smattering of applause concluded the Pugh Center portion of the event. Following the Q&A, panelists and attendees moved to the Bobby Silberman Bluelight Pub for a reception and an opportunity to speak individually with the members of the panel, as well as Mauguière.

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