Language Institute hosts career panel on languages, social justice

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Amy McGann, Regional Advisor on Trafficking and Human Rights in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. (Submitted photo)

It’s no surprise that UW-Madison students want to make the world a better place — and ideally make a career out of doing good, too. That can be a tall task, though.

But many talented alumni have trod this path before, and that’s the focus of an upcoming career panel on "Languages and Social Justice."

"Doing Good at Home and Abroad: Languages and Social Justice" will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. on Tues., March 5 in 126 Memorial Library. The event is open to the public. The panel is part of an ongoing Language Institute program “Language for Life,” which showcases alumni and other professionals using languages studied at UW-Madison in a variety of fields and professions.

One of the panelists, Amy McGann (’01, Economics and Philosophy; JD'10), Regional Advisor on Trafficking and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State, emphasizes how language study is crucial for understanding other cultures and essential in international work.

“Studying a language signals to others that you are serious about understanding the part of the world where that language is spoken,” she says. “For me, studying Hindi was not only about the language, it also expanded my understanding of the people and their culture. In my work, being able to exchange even extremely basic pleasantries lets my interlocutor know that I have made an effort and in my experience it has always been welcomed and helps make people feel at ease.”

Learning another language is an integral part of international development work, according to Adam Taylor (’95, Political Science & French), another speaker on the panel. He currently serves as Program Director for the Global to Local Initiative, and has previously worked providing relief services in Madagascar and helping farmers in Uganda improve their lives through technology.

But Taylor also points to the personal benefits and changes that come from learning a language.

“It is amazing to look at a single decision in life and realize how virtually everything that followed was impacted by that decision,” he says. “I chose to study French — more or less on a whim — because a friend in sixth grade informed me that girls like French. As it has turned out, this has proven to be the best decision ever made. Thirty years later I can rattle off dozens of things that I love about my life that would never have come to be had I not studied French.”

"Doing Good at Home and Abroad: Languages & Social Justice" is sponsored by the Language Institute with funding from the College of Letters and Science Anonymous Fund. The Language Institute promotes collaboration for research, education and community outreach in languages, literatures and cultures.

See the website for more about the event. Video will be available afterwards.

Story by Michael Kruse, Language Institute