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Language Acquisition as a Means of Change


Serena Smith '18
Serena Smith '18

During her junior spring semester, Serena Smith ’18 participated in the Hamilton Program in Washington, where she interned for a small policy consulting firm. Though she enjoyed her experience at the firm, Smith wanted her next internship to better engage her interest in foreign languages, particularly her Chinese major. “Before deciding where I wanted to intern, the one thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to work for an organization that fostered cross-cultural understanding and made a positive impact on the world,” said Smith.

This interest in language has brought Smith back to Washington, D.C., to work with the Global Language Network (GLN), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit dedicated to using “language as a tool to help fix our world.” Through foreign language classes taught by native speakers, GLN breaks down cultural barriers among members of a learning community dedicated to enacting positive global change. Often, students come to GLN with the intent to apply their language skills directly toward humanitarian work. For example, a group of Red Cross doctors, before their medical mission to Haiti, took classes in Haitian Creole at GLN.

about Serena Smith ’18

Majors: Chinese and Public Policy

Hometown: Johnstown, N.Y.

High School: Johnstown Senior High School

read more student internship stories

Because she came to GLN during a time of transition (the Program Coordinator was leaving), Smith had to learn the ropes somewhat faster than normal, especially because it was peak registration time for the summer semester. As an intern, Smith’s duties span across the three main GLN departments: development, operations, and learning and program development.

A typical workday begins with a meeting, when the team discusses the status of projects and tasks to be done throughout the week. Smith often conducts various marketing and outreach projects with the goal of expanding GLN’s network by increasing the number of students, teachers and other volunteers. During the registration period, Smith helped design and distribute promotional flyers with information about GLN’s class offerings. By the end of the summer, Smith hopes to have had a hand in developing the new teacher training program, with a particular focus on Mandarin, as she has experience with learning the language.

Through her work at GLN, Smith has expanded her interest in the study of language and of second language acquisition and has begun to consider going into the translation and interpretation field. “I love how learning a foreign language allows you to connect with so many people that you otherwise would have no way of connecting with. Speaking with someone in their native tongue is incomparable with simply speaking to them in English,” she said.            

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