Advice for College Spanish Majors
|Take a look at your campus to find opportunities that will give you experiences and relationships that are complementary to your Spanish major.|
Even though the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is a huge university, it is possible for students to connect with faculty. I say this proudly: especially in the language programs.
I had many wonderful students this semester, and many of them happened to be freshmen. I took one of those freshmen out for lunch at the end of the semester to let her know that I saw great intellect, talent and creativity in her work in my class. I wanted to encourage her, as a freshman, to consider opportunities on our campus that match her abilities--as well as complement them--and that she might not have found on her own. Or that she might have found much later.
Let me share that list because I would encourage all students of Spanish to look into them.
This student already has Spanish and French under her belt. Someone who is so obviously good with languages should take advantage of all the wonderful languages we offer on our campus. (That's a rare opportunity, and students might not fully appreciate the value of having access to all these languages on our campus.) Let me say a few things about some of these languages.
Since this student already knows two Romance languages well, Portuguese would be a wonderful addition to her linguistic profile. There are many places and reasons to speak Portuguese, but Brazil is obviously a very important country globally. Furthermore,
- The Portuguese program offers many extracurricular activities, with personalized attention from the faculty.
- You can participate in many of the lectures and activities offered by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), plus they offer FLAS fellowships you can use for Portuguese.
- We are one of just a few US universities with a Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies, so it's important to take advantage of that. The Lemann Institute supports study abroad in Brazil, too.
For students who are willing to go out of their comfort zone and study a language that is very different from English and Spanish, there are many resources for studying critical languages. (If it were me, I would study Arabic.) The government offers the Critical Language Scholarship Program that sends you abroad. And our university offers many less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), not all of which are critical languages.
Being able to speak many languages is a wonderful thing, but it is even better to combine that knowledge with some complementary skills.
To start, it's good to see what other people who have studied Spanish have gone on to do. (The truth is that today, most Spanish majors are double majors; so look at what their other major added to their pre-professional preparation, too.) Here are three former Illinois students with fascinating international careers; you can learn by reading these posts, and you can also network with them as a fellow Illinois student.
- Reflect, Communicate, Connect: Career Advice from Mark Wehling
- An International Career Is Not out of Reach: Career Advice from Dave Mackinson
- Challenges and Rewards of Living and Working Abroad: Career Advice from Benjamin Brodner
It's not necessary to study business in order to find a job after college, but something like the Business Minor could provide good, complementary knowledge and provide access to the College of Business resources. I know that many Spanish majors can't picture themselves in business. In many ways, languages and business can seem like two antithetical sets of values. But it doesn't have to be that way (see the examples above).
Again, I suggested something that many language students might immediately dismiss: becoming involved in entrepreneurship opportunities on campus. I told the student, "Don't think that entrepreneurship is just about technology! Or even if it is, don't imagine that students in the humanities don't have something very important to add to those projects." Be prepared to expand beyond your College and mingle with people from other Colleges.
- Technology Entrepreneur Center. I know that technology is right in the name of this center and that it is housed in the College of Engineering. That doesn't mean that foreign language students can't jump in and learn from the resources and activities they offer!
- Entrepreneurship at Illinois. You can find all kinds of information here. But here's my advice: jump in! Act on the information! Attend sessions! Speak up at events! People will welcome you.
When I was an undergraduate, decades ago, I was a double major in psychology and Spanish. If I were stepping back into college today, I would still be a Spanish major. I would study Arabic as much as possible. And I would definitely apply to the Informatics Minor. Even if you think that computer science is not for you, that "other people" are good at that, at least click on the link and take a look. It will open many doors.
There. Those are the suggestions I have for that gifted student--and for any student of Spanish, really. When you're a freshman, you're just trying to get a feel for the place, the people and the culture of this huge place. But if you are lucky enough to find someone who recognizes your unique talents and can help you match them with opportunities on campus that you might miss, at least take a look. Try. A Spanish major is great, but you also want to be building a portfolio that builds on as many of the wonderful experiences on this campus as possible.
Did I miss any opportunities? Do you have different suggestions? Let me know in a comment.