| by Jeff Dayton-Johnson
My expriences as a multilingual international professional have not all been roses and glory. About ten years ago in Mozambique I had just delivered—in “good-enough” Portuguese—a briefing on the growth outlook for Africa to a group of government officials and embassy staff. As I emerged from the meeting, a television news crew thrust a camera in my face and demanded my thoughts on Mozambique’s economic prospects. What I sputtered out in not-at-all-good Portuguese might, I believe, be rendered as: “Grow, Mozambique, grow! Big, big growth!”
I consoled myself with the thought that no one would see the interview. The next day, several people stopped me on the street to say, “Hey, I saw you on TV last night!” My heart sank.
Fortunately, Middlebury Institute graduates are more likely to perform well in the spur of the moment, thanks in part to the rigorous, content-based language instruction that is a signature part of our curriculum. And I can bear witness to the powerful role that advanced language skills will play in our graduates’ careers.
After my 15 minutes of fame in Mozambique, I went on to lead the Latin America and Caribbean desk at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris for several years. I was the sole American in the group, and my team hailed from a range of Spanish-speaking countries. Our working language was Spanish: meetings, personal conversations, emails, text messages, presentations, briefings, and more all happened en Español, all day long.
Moreover, speaking Spanish lent me and my work credibility with a host of counterparts throughout Latin America. To say it was a transformative professional experience would be an understatement, as Institute alumni who have walked the same path can attest. Indeed, many current students will be plunged into a similar baptism by fire during international placements in programs such as DPMI and Frontier Market Scouts.
As this issue’s cover story suggests, the Institute’s world-class, language- and culture-centric programs help our graduates to be successful in positions that require them to think critically and express themselves clearly in multiple languages—and equip them to say so much more than “Big, big growth!”
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