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Loving Language: The College Experience

Monday, June 19, 2017

Daniel Clark just finished his fourth year as a Portuguese and business student at UW-Madison. He’s always known that a global profile would be a fool-proof path.

“I think [language learning] has defined my college experience,” said Clark.

Clark is originally from Wausau, WI, but has had temporary homes in Minneapolis, MN, Quito, Ecuador, Coimbra, Portugal and, of course, Madison, Wisconsin.

Immediately following his high school graduation, Clark spent a year in Quito, Ecuador through the International Rotary Exchange program. There he learned how powerful language study could be. Following his year abroad in South America, Clark spent his freshman year at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities studying business -- and taking a Portuguese for Spanish Speakers class, similar to Portuguese 301 offered at Madison. His sophomore year he transferred to UW-Madison knowing that he wanted to continue Portuguese and further build his international profile.

“I really am passionate about languages and I love learning new languages, even though I am bad at it in a classroom setting.”

By the time he had received his Madison acceptance, Clark knew study abroad was also part of his future and found himself spending a semester during his sophomore year studying at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

“People don’t have any regrets when it comes to [study abroad] and I think it’s mostly because it opens up your mind and opens up a new world for you.”

Clark talked about how study abroad influenced his thoughts, actions and passions. He emphasized how the little things about the experience were important, like his improved language abilities from the comprehensive immersion.

“There’s something about communicating in a language that’s other than your own … there are certain emotions or concepts that you can portray that you can’t portray in English and ... it’s opening a new door, a new world where you can interact.”

What was most powerful, however, was the connections he created. Most of the other international students were from Asia, specifically Macau and other parts of China. They showed him how people are similar all over the world, opening his eyes to stereotypes and discrimination as an unexpected lesson of study abroad.

“My [study abroad] friends have changed me so much more than my experiences have.”

This inspired him to be an active member in BRIDGE (Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments), a student organization that fosters intercultural exchange by building connections and friendships between international and domestic students at UW-Madison. As a BRIDGE buddy, he has built lifelong friendships with people all across the globe, but also has managed to constantly practice his language skills.

“It might be annoying, but whenever I hear people speaking Spanish or Portuguese, I will literally go up and introduce myself and start talking to them.”

Clark’s language abilities and passion for people of the world led him to the International Internship Program, which connected him with DLG Naturals, a company in Janesville, WI. The summer internship, which started with a two-week field experience in Botswana, turned into a part-time job during the academic year. Clark learned, first hand, about the challenges of intercultural communication and international business.

“[It] was a huge challenge getting simple tasks done in a culture I was unfamiliar with.”

For Clark, ordering name tags in Botswana became a weeks long ordeal as he struggled to resolve everything from incorrect colors to general miscommunications.

This summer, he’ll be a global marketing and supply chain intern working for a company that is starting to expand their Brazilian presence.

“Every job interview that I’ve done, people always ask about Portuguese … it kind of sets you apart, it’s something different because even at UW there’s not many kids studying it.”

Clark has one more year left of his undergraduate studies. When he graduates, he hopes to keep using his language skills in developing economies to do business for good.

“Overall, [DLG Naturals] was a very eye opening experience for me and I hope someday that I can use my language skills and business skills to someday do something very similar: empowering oppressed groups of people in developing countries, or some sort of fair trade, social enterprise sort of work.”

Story by Jen Wagman, Language Institute

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