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Jenny P.

Major(s) and Certificate(s) 

Portuguese, Latin American, Carribean, and Iberian Studies, Portuguese MA

Graduation Year 
1990, 1992 (MA)
Current city 
New York
Current state/province/country (if outside US) 
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison? 

So much cool stuff I still can't believe it! First job out of grad school was in think tank, then small NGO, both in DC. Then academic administration at the University of Chicago's Center for Latin American Studies. Then UN Peacekeeping in Kosovo, then NY HQ. Then UNESCO Paris. Then squeaked in a baby. Then a project in Timor where my partner worked. Then we moved to Lebanon for his work. Then to UNFPA HQ in NY.

What motivated you to study this/these languages? 

Frankly, a scary transfer student "consult" with a well regarded professor in another department (which shall go nameless) put me squarely in the LAISP/Spanish & Portuguese camp. I literally skulked away to the ashtray-book-paper-filled, Che-Guevara-postered office for an "I'm thinking about majoring in..." I knew immediately that these were my people and I was "at home".

Study abroad (AFS) in high school to Brazil led me to a lifelong love affair with Brazil. As a Wisconsin native, I lucked out to have my state university be a language and area studies powerhouse. Outstanding faculty. Great extras (Tinker, Title VI, Nave funding). One-on-one relationships with faculty. Outstanding visiting professors. Teaching and project opportunities. Study abroad.

How have these languages enriched your life? 

They provided me with a rock-solid foundation of incredibly-useful transferable skills, which have served me well across a number of sectors and disciplines. I might not remember the year of that short story by Clarice Lispector, but I can read, write, edit, comprehend, defend a position, make a case. Humanities education is getting short shrift of late, which is a real shame.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took? 

My professors were so good (Mary Lou, Severino, Ellen)! They knew me, challenged me, nurtured me. Office hours, Bate-Papo, feijoada, Portuguese dinners. It was "omni-channel learning" before that term even existed. I got a "boutique" education at public school prices. A brilliant deal by all accounts.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences? 

It's humbling, humanizing and amazing to be an exchange student. It forces a maturation (which isn't always easy, but is always useful). Nothing enhances language learning and the acquisition of cross-cultural competency like immersion, including navigating housing and school. Excellent training for life. My DC internship confirmed my interest in working in DC.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?  

My Portuguese suffered with the acquisition of French and improvement of my Spanish. But it came back when I moved to TImor-Leste! Living with Spanish-speaking roomies for a year in Kosovo was also really helpful. I watch TV news and movies and listen to radio programs to keep the ear well tuned.

What advice do you have for current language students? 

Don't forget you can apply your language skills domestically. It's also important to have language plus something else (for non-profit, development or international organization work).

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know? 

Seria comico se nao fosse tragico.