An update from Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures alum Alan Medina Jr.
“Growing up in Central Illinois, I had always dreamed about life in distant places. I started learning French at the age of 11 and then began with German at the age of 15. I knew at some point that I wanted to use the foreign languages I was learning in my career and to accomplish my long-term goal of living and working in Europe.
After high school, I went to Illinois State University and double majored in international business and French with a minor in German. I took advantage of the study abroad program and went to the Université de Grenoble in France. I finished up my studies in the States and did an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., which included time spent in St. Petersburg, Russia, working on a joint American-Russian Farm Project.
After my internship, I started working in the agribusiness Industry spending most of my first three years working in both Montréal, Québec and in Medicine Hat, Alberta Canada. I switched companies and went to New York City working in a joint venture for the export of US feed products. After spending some time here, I transferred to St. Louis and then back to New York, always hoping for an opportunity to go back to Europe and live and work. This was my dream.
The opportunity then arose. I was given the chance to move to Hamburg, Germany, to work in our trading office for Northern European Proteins. I was working, living and using German every day. My German improved leaps and bounds living in the country by having to speak it every day. I transferred to our Mannheim, Germany, facility in 2004 and am the Senior Trader and Logistics Manager here. I don’t even think about speaking German anymore. It is just a part of my life and has become almost as easy for me as English. I continue to use my French with the French brokers and customers we have and have taken up a new challenge three years ago – learning Italian.
It is clear that you can do a lot of things with a foreign language. It automatically gives you access to people and it does not matter if you make the occasional mistake. You are making the step towards them and to speak “their” language. This clearly gives you an advantage in transacting business in a global environment, in that you also understand the way that “they” think.
I have been to Europe, Asia and parts of the Middle East and Latin America. I take the lessons with me I have learned in the international environment in which I have lived and worked. What I have realized is that people are pretty much the same wherever you go. It deals with being humble, listening more than you speak and the way that you approach others and also trying to speak at least of couple of words of the language of the country you are in. You would be surprised what can happen if you say “thank you” in the language of the country you are in. It will bring smiles to faces.
I would sum up my traveling experiences with a quote from Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient.
“I think travel is a lot of things; exploring, forgetting and leaving behind. The traveler is alone with himself. He leaves the center of his life behind, the most familiar people and things. Many of my characters are nomads and emigrants. Their lives become disrupted or changed and that in turn changes them. Many of my protagonists are on a journey, often one that is both real and spiritual, a journey of personal development.”