As someone who has traveled to 45 countries, many extensively, during my career, it was a real pleasure to say “yes” when Mark Rectanus, professor of German and co-director of Languages and Cultures for Professions at Iowa State University and Chad M. Gasta, Professor of Spanish and Chair, Department of World Languages and Cultures asked me to spend a day in Ames and speak to students about the most important trends in digital media, as well as provide career advice.
With the backdrop of language, we met with several students who were bi-lingual or tri-lingual, had often studied abroad and aspire to work internationally once they graduate. What they may not always realize until years from now are the advantages that studying a language and exploring new cultures provides for them in the business world.
Here are five key reasons why your investment in learning new languages and cultures is important:
Ability to Understand ANY Culture – when you spend time in another country, it helps you see your own country through different eyes. To succeed abroad, you must pay attention to how the new culture works and understand what traditions and people and media are important and why. It is like getting a new pair of glasses.
Back in the business world, you have developed the ability to approach a situation with an open mind, so you can connect. Even if you never travel the rest of your life, imagine entering a technology company vs. a food and beverage company vs. a hotel vs. an accounting firm. All have distinct cultures, and all require an open mind to learn how to interact.
Self-Awareness – when you enter a new culture or country, you realize no one cares who you are. When you learn a new language, you can barely count to ten in the first days of learning. It is humbling. It is also foundational to entering a situation with higher self-awareness than the normal person.
In business, how will you learn that company’s “language” inside and out? What will you ensure you teach yourself that others may overlook?
Historical Perspective – there is a reason why certain countries are friends or antagonists. There are reasons why idiosyncrasies within cultures exist. It often has to do with the history of the country and the way it has been and continues to be governed. Learning a language often means continuing that curious streak to learn the “why” of a nation. I cannot begin to tell you how many American friends I have seen stumble over the years from not knowing their history.
In business, you realize that the “American way” to do business works great in America. It needs to be customized for the other 190 or so countries remaining.
Realizing the Power of Words – when you learn words one by one, you develop an appreciation for each one. When you can’t speak a new language as smoothly at first, you work hard at being brief. You also learn how to listen more intently. All skills we covet in the business world in any language.
Self-Confidence in Exploring the World – hey, it’s hard enough growing up. We graduate and then we wonder what we can do. Learning a language or traveling abroad is a real sense of accomplishment. It shows us we can do more, we can handle the global stage and we’re going to be okay. An early dose of self-confidence can accelerate one’s career.
I enjoyed speaking on digital trends. I must admit it was more fun to listen to the students who asked questions and see how their curiosity today will turn into opportunities for them tomorrow. They just don’t know that yet.
P.S. We had our first meeting of the day in Pearson Hall. The Hall was named after Raymond A. Pearson, the 7th President of ISU. No relation to me, but the Hall was completed in 1962, the year of my birth.