Languages, Literatures and Cultures
A Message from Erin Koontz '03
1. Are you currently employed in the work force or continuing your education? If so, where?
I currently work for Interstudy, a study abroad provider based in Boston, MA. We organize semester, summer, and year long study abroad programs for students to study in South Africa, Botswana, and the UK. I’m primarily responsible for communications and web content, but I also help out with study abroad fairs and student advising. I also just finished my Master’s in International Education through Drexel University.
2. Have you ever been able to use your knowledge of French language/culture?
Yes! Prior to working at Interstudy, I worked for an educational tour company, EF Educational Tours. We organized orientation excursions in Paris for the teachers who brought students on our trips. My knowledge of French was a big help during these trips, and I think I impressed my coworkers! As well, I sometimes would have to look up information about tourist sights in order to plan customized trips for students. Some of the obscure sights had websites that were only in French, so it was helpful to be able to read the websites. After EF Educational Tours, I worked for an International Business School and was able to speak French with some of the students. Also, this summer I traveled around the Mediterranean with Semester at Sea. I found that I used French a lot, even in non-francophone countries, when I wasn’t able to speak English with a shop owner, cab driver, etc.
3. Do you find that the understanding of cultural differences that you've developed as a French major/minor plays a role in your life?
Understanding cultural differences and developing a passion for experiencing new cultures was the biggest “take away” from my experience of majoring in French at Muhlenberg. This understanding plays a major role in my life everyday. Through studying abroad, I learned what it was like to live in another culture, and found that I just wanted to experience more! When it came time to think about a career after college, I gravitated towards anything that involved travel, and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve now traveled all over Europe, and had the chance to visit South America, Northern Africa, and even the Middle East. If it wasn’t for my first experience abroad, and my French major, I would not have developed a curiosity for learning about new cultures and I would not have traveled as much as I have. Now, I work in study abroad where I try to pass on that passion for learning about new cultures to more students, since I know how important it is to students’ success in a more interconnected world.
4. Anything else you’d like our future French majors/minors to know?
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that French is not as “useful” as another language (ehem…Spanish) in the US. You’re putting yourself at a huge advantage by studying a language at a college level, and I’m sure you’ll find that you’re able to make connections to other languages much faster than some of your friends or coworkers. I started learning Spanish just a couple of years ago, and picked it up pretty quickly. I found that I made a lot of connections with Italian too, and can at least follow the structure of Portuguese. All of these languages have helped me travel to new places and meet new people! Also, you’re most likely at the top of your French level right now, so try to make a conscious effort to keep it up after college. A few of my friends and I still speak in French with each other, usually as a joke, but it is helpful to practice. I try to watch French films when I have a chance too. No matter what your future career may be, you’re very likely to run into someone who speaks French – a vendor, an international contact, a parent of a student – so don’t shy away from using the language. Bonne chance!