Luke S.

"I did not intend to study it for four years, but once I started, my interest in the language and culture of Japan grew, and I surprised myself by keeping at it and majoring in it."


Major(s) and Certificate(s): Japanese, History; European Studies

Language(s): Japanese

Graduation Year: 2013

What motivated you to study this/these languages?

My initial motivation was a desire to jump into a difficult language that was much more different than English compared to Romance languages (or German, which I studied in high school). Something with a different writing system was a plus! This gave me an easy shortlist of options, and I settled on Japanese given some minor cultural exposure as a kid watching animated shows on TV. All that said, I did not intend to study it for four years, but once I started, my interest in the language and culture of Japan grew, and I surprised myself by keeping at it and majoring in it. I never actually studied abroad (which I regret), but I was able to live and work in Japan later on after graduating.

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

I primarily remember the long hours and intensity of classes! My first two semesters of Japanese included 8 hours of class per week, which was by far my most time-intensive coursework at UW. I didn’t know about Madison’s reputation for having a great language program before I studied there, but it really showed through the classes. I really liked the discussion sections in particular, with great TAs helping us put into practice what we covered in the large group lectures.

What have you done in a professional capacity since graduating from UW-Madison?

After graduating, I worked some service industry jobs before deciding that I wanted to work abroad in Japan. I was outside the annual application window for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), so I applied for private sector English-teaching jobs and landed a position in Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. I taught English for three-and-a-half years there before returning to the US for graduate school. I studied international relations at Georgetown University in DC, and then started a government contract job doing foreign assistance program management at the State Department. I recently became a Foreign Service Officer and am in Chinese language training at diplomat school, before I move abroad again to work at the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai, China.

What are ways, either expected or unexpected, that your language study has benefited you in your career?

Language study directly enabled my ability to work abroad, and it also turned out to be essential for the international affairs master’s program I ended up doing in DC. My language skills helped me land a couple of internships in school, and also contributed to my successful bid to become a diplomat at the State Department. I am now studying languages again for my current job!

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

Maintaining language skills can be difficult! I had a two-year gap between undergrad and moving to Japan, and I lost a lot of my previous vocabulary. I primarily did self study while living in Japan to help bolster my abilities, but it helped a lot that I was living in Japan and had natural language immersion. After returning to the US, I was in graduate school and had opportunities to join some Japanese conversation groups with undergrad language students. I also did an internship in Tokyo following my first year of school, so I could maintain/work on my language there. Since then, I have had to just do some occasional practice through watching tv/movies in Japanese or listening to news podcasts.

What advice do you have for students who are studying language(s) about how to incorporate their interests and skills into their future goals?

First, I highly recommend putting the time in during undergrad to get to know your language well. Study outside of class more! I wish I had done a better job while in school, instead of having to catch up by putting in extra time after work later on after graduation. Second, definitely study abroad if you have the opportunity to do so. Immersion in-country was by far the best way for me to learn.

As far as future goals go, you would be surprised how many options there are to make use of language skills! I suggest not turning up your nose to something you don’t think you’d want to do long-term if it will provide more opportunities in the future. I personally struggled to decide what to do after graduating, and I had zero desire to become an English teacher like some of my fellow classmates. However, it is one of the easier straight-out-of-undergrad jobs to get abroad, and it is something that opens a lot of doors. I ended up regretting not applying for a teaching job sooner! It gave me significant work experience abroad, and I was able to explore my career interests over time while continuing to work on my language abilities. Teaching can also be a great stepping stone while you work on personal creative passions or build up your resume for more difficult language-specific careers to break into, such as translation.