A Note From the Chair

CATEGORIES: February 2014

Languages and Cultures for Professions: Preparing ISU Students for the Global Community

Can you imagine what it might be like to do business in China? What about being an engineer in Germany or France? How about working as an agricultural specialist in Argentina or the Middle East? How will that culture shape your professional practice as an advertising executive, salesperson, or marketing specialist? How does business impact the society and culture in which you will be living? These are some of the questions we ask our students everyday.

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In the 21st century, professionals must develop a global portfolio that includes language and cross-cultural skills. Many CEOs call this “global agility” – the ability to move across cultures, speak multiple languages, and adapt rapidly to diverse, constantly-changing working environments. Today, companies that may seem to be local are increasingly global; they have suppliers, customers, and partners across the globe. Even within one company, there may be regional differences among subsidiaries or joint ventures in how they operate or address local markets. I would like to take some time this month to tell you about a very unique interdisciplinary program we offer in World Languages and Cultures called Languages and Cultures for Professions (LCP) that addresses some of these concerns.

Since 2003 WLC has collaborated with the Colleges of Engineering, Business, and Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State to offer a second major option in LCP in French, German, and Spanish, or minors in Chinese and Russian Studies. LCP combines advanced training in languages and cultures with core professional skills to prepare ISU students to become global professionals. The LCP option includes courses in the designated language that focus on professions, conversation, culture or civilization, cross-cultural skills, an internship, and study abroad. Courses such as “France Today,” “German for Business and Professions,” or “Spanish Conversation for Professionals” provide students with an understanding of the various professional contexts they will encounter working across cultures and prepare them for an internship abroad. For example, they learn about cultural differences in the workplace that they might encounter during an internship and get acquainted with the social, economic, and political issues that a U.S. professional working with partners in the U.S. and abroad might face.

LCP is one of the few programs in the United States that combines a first major in the student’s professional discipline with a second major in a language and culture, internship, and study abroad – including 30 credits beyond the fourth-semester level. Professor Mark Rectanus, Co-Director of the LCP program, comments that “The second major offers both the depth and breadth of experience that prepares students to transition from the university to working in global positions by providing them with the “global agility” that many employers are seeking. Our LCP alumni who have global positions tell us that if students want to be truly globally competitive—if they want to be the very best at what they do—then they need to be highly-proficient in multiple languages and welcome the challenges and opportunities of working across cultures.” In LCP courses, students learn about the role of language and culture in the global marketplace, develop skills to work in global project teams, and get acquainted with the social, economic and political issues that impact the U.S. professional working with partners in the U.S. and abroad.

One key feature of the LCP option is the opportunity for experiential learning: students can complete an international internship, participate in a study abroad program, or participate in a research experience at a partner university. On LCP study abroad programs students improve their critical thinking skills, become highly proficient in a second, or third, language, and become culturally adept. ISU students have interned with international Fortune 500 companies, non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), local engineering or business firms, and major manufacturing corporations. As a result of the experience abroad, LCP students are better prepared to become global project managers and industry leaders who can make informed judgments about significant socio-political and economic issues facing the world today. “It is important that students are aware of the global issues related to their profession when they are on an internship in another country or accept a job elsewhere,” said Dr. Mark Looney, Program Coordinator. “These experiential opportunities are unique in that students receive meaningful professional experience while perfecting their language skills, making them more competitive in the global marketplace.”

After ten years LCP continues to receive enthusiastic support from ISU faculty and students, enrolling nearly 100 students each year. Moreover, industry has recognized the program’s importance and in some instances has provided funding for student internships and study abroad. Employers have a growing demand for students who can combine their expertise in business with knowledge and experience living, speaking, and working in diverse cultural contexts. Iowa business and industry executives report that employees who are proficient in a second language and who are familiar with another culture are more in demand than ever. And they tend to have higher salaries!

If you are interested in learning more about this unique and highly competitive program, please visit our website (http://www.language.iastate.edu/lcp) or contact one of the Program Directors: Prof. Mark Rectanus (mwr@iastate.edu) or Prof. Chad M. Gasta (gasta@iastate.edu).