Jehan Almahmoud: Challenges and Advantages of Networking as an International Student!

Jehan Almahmoud is a second-year MLC student interested in the intersection of social media discourse and Saudi Arabian women’s identity.

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So you think networking is scary? Try being an international student in a networking event. It’s daunting! Networking in a foreign language is not easy. You need to simultaneously overcome the language barrier while dealing with the customary networking jitters. Being an international student, I vividly remember my first networking event around a year and a half ago. It felt like a challenging ESL conversation standardized test. I needed to be elaborate, yet concise. I had to choose my words carefully; order them correctly; use a mixture of conversational and academic vocabulary (not to sound too formal or too casual); pronounce correctly; stress my Rs and Ls; spit my Ps out; all of this in order to be understood, blend in, and avoid sounding ‘foreign’.

Well, I am foreign!
I am foreign to you as you are foreign to me.
I am not a native speaker of English.
I am a native speaker of my first language.

Fast-forward several awkward networking events, I finally came to the realization that being foreign is not a bad thing. One of the biggest challenges in what I call ‘networking while foreign’ is that your qualifications and skills are defined by your non-national status. Your ‘foreignness’ becomes your identity. The first question I get asked in a networking setting is how did I learn to speak English so well. My fluency in English becomes the center of an interrogation session, where the expectation is that I am an international student so I should sound like one.

Were you born in the U.S.? You must’ve immigrated to the U.S. very young, right? Is one of your parents American? No. To all three. I was born in Saudi Arabia, both parents Saudis, never been to the U.S. (except a year and half ago to join the MLC).

Unfortunately, this is how my networking encounters used to unfold. I felt I had to constantly justify being articulate in a foreign language, which diverged the direction of the networking conversation to a dead-end question-answer session about my background. It’s no longer a two-way communication to connect with the other person. I don’t get to ask questions about the other person’s interests, work experience, or skills. I don’t talk about my research interest, my work experience, my skills… things that matter to me and my personal and professional progress. I end up positioned as the Saudi Arabian who, surprisingly, speaks English so well.

Semi-accusatory questions about my ethnic origins did not only take away time and energy from essential networking objectives. They also cast a patronizing attitude from the speaker that lead to downplaying any fundamental contribution I could add to the conversation. I became the “questioned,” the somewhat passive receiver of questions. I used to end up answering questions, being self-deprecating and trying to downplay my language skills.

I got fed up from missing out on valuable networking encounters because the conversation takes on a predictable, meaningless direction of one-way questioning. Eventually, I learned to embrace and make the most out of ‘networking while foreign’.

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(image via http://blog.sweetcareersconsulting.com/)

Last week I attended a coffee hour for Georgetown graduate students. That networking event was the perfect opportunity to test out my polished new networking strategies. First, I positioned myself as a native speaker of a language other than English from the start; a non-native English speaker with sufficient fluency to carry out a conversation. In other words, I made peace with the fact that English is not my native language, never has been, never will be. This was more of a mental attitude that I took and carried out through my self-introductions. Second, I learned to take initiative. I devised a communication strategy that switches the attention from me as a “foreigner” to the other person. I intentionally became genuinely curious about the other person. I started asking questions!

Instead of being the passive receiver of questioning drills, I became an active initiator. I took charge of the conversation and directed it to the path I wanted it go. I started asking questions about the other person’s personal and professional interests, and even questions about their origins and where they come from. All the good stuff I get asked all the time. This doesn’t mean I stopped answering questions about where I’m from or whether it’s true that Saudi Arabian women are not allowed to drive (which is true by the way). Those questions are still asked. I still answer them, maybe briefly, but mindfully. Communication is a two-way street; the two participants have to be involved in order to get the most out of the interaction. I got the most out my last networking event, knowing that being ‘foreign while networking’ is not a crime.

Your native language is a powerful tool you use to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Who else in the room speaks native Urdu other than you? Who in the room can converse in several Arabic dialects, standard and colloquial? Who can draw Chinese calligraphy and speak both Mandarin and Cantonese? Your native language is a valuable asset; being foreign is empowering; it’s one aspect of many other unique qualities that makes you who you are.

Amanda Tolbert: Hooyah!

Amanda Tolbert is a second-year MLC student interested in applying her discourse analysis skills in military intelligence.

Amanda Tolbert, Second-year MLC student

This week at work, I earned my first “Hooyah!” It wasn’t an Oorah, or a Hooah, or a HUA. It was a Hooyah. And, it felt good. What is a Hooyah might you ask? And how does a Hooyah differ from an Oorah or a Hooah? This group of exclamations is referred to within the military community as HUAs.

The HUAs are a type of battle cry. Battle cries are usually used by members of the same military unit. The word slogan is derived from the Scottish-Gaelic word for ‘gathering cry’: slaugh-garim, (where slaugh means ‘people’ or ‘army’ and garim is a ‘call’ or ‘proclamation.’ The Gaelic word was then borrowed into English as slughorn, sluggorne, and eventually slogan. As demonstrated in the aforementioned etymology, a battle cry is the call of the people.

In using the battle cry, one identifies oneself as a member of the unit. These HUAs are different depending on your branch of service. The Marines use Oorah. The Army cries Hooah. Air Force, the last to utilize a variation of the cry, goes with HUA. But, my personal favorite is the Navy’s Hooyah.

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(image via http://www.army.mil/article/96456/Local_leaders_in_Afghan_district_meet_each_other__their_future/)

HUA is an acronym for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged. This acronym stems from the battle cries being used to respond to other members of your unit, particularly those above you, when those above you have been given a directive. HUAs are also used as a congratulatory gesture, a verbal high five.

At my job, I’m a civilian in a military world. And, while I might know a lot of acronyms I didn’t know before, the civilian, military binary is always visible. (Uniforms are handy that way, aren’t they?) But, at the end of the day, we all serve the same customers and are working towards the same goal. I earned my first Hooyah this week. A colleague told me that I did a job well done. In the way that they told me, they also let me know that I am a member of the team. And, to that I say, “Hooyah!”

Reflections on Linguists in Industry at LSA 2015

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(A list of speakers and companies is at the bottom of this post).

The future is bright for linguists seeking careers outside academia, but you have to come prepared. This is the clear message from a group of linguists representing a diverse set of industries, who shared their expertise with LSA 2015 attendees in the meeting’s Linguists in Industry programming. Here are six things we learned last weekend that should be helpful to anyone who is starting to think about what comes next:

1: Linguists fit in perfectly in many fields.

The diversity of the LSA panelists and mentors at the Career Exploration Expo speaks for itself. Linguists work in natural language processing, data science, government and non-profit research, education, marketing and naming, media and journalism, and user experience design, among many other fields.

What you can do is to start thinking about where you best fit in. Do you want to research, teach, program, be in the field, manage projects, manage people, write? Think about what type of work best fits your skills.

(Want more ideas for fields and organizations that employ linguists? Check out the Career Center at the MLC website.)

2: Skills – not your research topic – are key.

When you get asked about what you do, probably the first thing that comes to mind is your subfield within linguistics. In industry, you need to lead with your skills. ‘Doing linguistics’ is not a skill recognizable to most future colleagues. Think instead about what you do every day when you do linguistics.

Tatiana Libman, senior linguist at Google, listed some skills that give linguists an edge: Study design, project management, the ability to collect and analyze structured and unstructured data.

(MLC’s hint: all of these can go on your resume, rather than being hidden under a ‘research’ heading).

3. Computational skills matter.

This cannot be said enough. Being able to analyze and manipulate data sets is perhaps most important thing you can bring to the table. Get cracking on your familiarity with Python, R, Java, dependency parsing, statistical modeling, NTLK, and so on. Are graduate level courses available at your institution? Take one. For practice, you can use one of the many self-paced coding tutorials available online.

4. If you know how to do something, mention it.

So say you have some familiarity with a particular skill, method or tool, but you’re not very confident in using it. Should you leave it off your resume entirely, or put it down under ‘skills’?

The key is not to undersell but also not to overstate, as you may be tested on your facility during an interview. Know a little bit of Python? Find a way to indicate your true level of proficiency while not erasing your abilities.

The same goes for work experience. Don’t undersell your part-time, contract, and volunteer work, if it’s related to the position you want. Nothing is “just something you did”.

So seek out things you can do to make yourself more attractive to the kind of organization you want to work for. Short courses and contract jobs help you gain both competencies and resume lines.

5. Don’t forget your qualitative analysis skills!

Whether we work on syntax, phonology or ethnographies, linguists are often acutely attuned to the links between language use and the human experience. And guess what? This comes in handy when you work for an organization that sells, names, brands, or markets products.

Demonstrated understanding of conversation, cross-cultural and cross-linguistic nuances and potential pitfalls in different markets are a key asset, say Greg Alger, director of linguistics at Lexicon Branding, and Lisa Radding, director of product development at Ethnic Technologies.

6. Have a creative idea? Start doing it and generate interest.

Just as we are trained to find gaps in literature and data, many linguists have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to find novel ways of working with language. A piece of advice from Grant Barrett, lexicographer, radio host, and all-around popularizer of language: If you can’t find someone to employ you to do what you want to do, just start doing it and focus on finding avenues for funding.

There is more interest than ever in elucidating career paths for linguists. The five panelists spoke to a full house; and thirteen mentors at the career exploration expo drew crowds large enough to move the event from a student lounge into a much larger space. The MLC is proud to be part of this new effort, and we want to thank everybody who generously shared their experience and expertise with us!

  • Rachael Allbritten (investigative scientist at National Science Foundation)
  • Greg Alger (director of linguistics at Lexicon Branding);
  • Grant Barrett (radio host, public speaker, lexicographer and journalist);
  • Zhaleh Feizollahi (applied scientist at Microsoft);
  • Nancy Frishberg (manager of user research at Financial Engines)
  • Ron Kaplan (vice president and distinguished scientist at Nuance);
  • Tatiana Libman (senior linguist at Google)
  • Gretchen McCulloch (writer and editor of Slate’s Lexicon Valley blog);
  • Meg Mitchell (researcher at Microsoft);
  • Anastasia Nylund (MA program director at Georgetown University);
  • Lisa Radding (director of research and product development at Ethnic Technologies);
  • Tyler Schnoebelen (chief analyst at Idibon);
  • Laurel Sutton (principal at Catchword Branding);
  • Anna Marie Trester (associate at FrameWorks Institute)
  • Hot off the presses: The MLC Spring 2015 Speaker Series is here!

    As always, the MLC features professional linguists and language professionals in our monthly MLC Speaker Series. The focus of this series is to highlight diverse fields and professional applications of linguistics. We are pleased to announce the lineup for the Spring 2015 Speaker Series, with more information, abstracts and bios to appear.

    Time: Fridays, 1:00-2:15pm
    Location: Poulton Hall 230 – Linguistics Department conference room (1421 37th St NW, Washington DC 20057)

    January 30th: Terena Bell – CEO of In Every Language

    February 19th: Aviad Eilam – Social Media Manager at Rosetta Stone (NOTE: this event is scheduled for Thursday, 5:30-7pm)

    March 20th: Brice Russ – Director of Communications at Linguistic Society of America

    April 17th: Lauren Collister – Electronic Publications Associate at University of Pittsburgh Libraries

    Connecting Linguists across Industries: The 1st LSA Career Exploration Expo in Portland, Oregon

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    (Image courtesy of http://www.travelportland.com)

    As friends of the MLC no doubt know, the program hosts an annual Career Exploration Expo on campus.

    On January 10th, 2015, the Linguistic Society of America will host its own Career Exploration Expo, a focused networking event aimed at connecting students and other linguists exploring career options with professionals who employ their linguistics training in a diverse range of fields. The Expo is part of the 2015 Annual Meeting.

    The LSA Expo is facilitated by the current director of the MLC, Anastasia Nylund.

    Join us in Portland in January for an exciting afternoon of career exploration and new connections!

    Time, date, location: Saturday, January 10th, 2015, 3:30-5pm, in the Student Lounge at the 2015 LSA Annual Meeting. More information about the meeting is available here.

    Event Description:

    Interested in finding out more about the varied career options available for linguists? The Career Exploration Expo is a focused networking event, a space for attendees to meet linguists working across a range of professional fields, get to know key contacts at organizations that hire and work with linguists, and identify career options available for individuals with training in all branches of linguistics.

    At the Expo, linguists representing fields including research, marketing, branding, speech technology, data science, media, and journalism, will be available to talk to attendees about how they broke into their field, how the skills they acquired during their linguistics training help them in their current careers, marketing a linguistics degree for industry careers, acquiring and building key skills, and how linguists can begin their own career exploration within and beyond the academy.

    Confirmed participants include Rachael Allbritten (investigative scientist at National Science Foundation) Greg Alger (director of linguistics at Lexicon Branding); Grant Barrett (radio host, public speaker, lexicographer and journalist); Zhaleh Feizollahi (applied scientist at Microsoft); Ron Kaplan (vice president and distinguished scientist at Nuance Communications); Gretchen McCulloch (writer and editor of Slate’s Lexicon Valley blog); Meg Mitchell (researcher at Microsoft); Anastasia Nylund (MA program director at Georgetown University); Lisa Radding (director of research and product development at Ethnic Technologies); Tyler Schnoebelen (chief analyst at Idibon), and Anna Marie Trester (associate at FrameWorks Institute).

    The Expo’s focus is on exploration and networking. Attendees are encouraged to bring business cards and questions for specific participants, and to keep in mind that the Expo is not designed to be a job fair but an opportunity for conversation.

    We look forward to seeing you in Portland!

    Katarina Starcevic: Unexpected Connections

    Katarina Starcevic is a first-year MLC student.

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    Two things drew me to the MLC: flexibility and applicability. As a linguistics undergrad, I found the promise of a professional springboard for making interesting, useful connections with language and the world around us difficult to resist. Despite this relative elasticity, I have to admit I still get some blank looks when I reveal that the ingredient I’m bringing to the professional sociolinguistic cocktail is… the horse. Yes, the horse. Well more specifically, the horse industry as an intersection of diverse people, goals, and language varieties drawn together by a shared interest in the horse.

    I had never met or even heard of anyone who made the connection between the horse industry and Georgetown, so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a Georgetown grad working as the digital media manager for a national horse racing fan platform. I was encouraged by my advisor to reach out and contact her to schedule an informational interview – an idea that initially made me feel something like this.

    This was my first cold-email and I was nervous but I made a draft, then sat on the draft for awhile (I don’t recommend this part of the process), ran it by my advisor who graciously helped me put the right words in the right order, and clicked send! Within 24 hours, the digital media manager had gotten back to me and kindly agreed to a time for an informational phone interview — which ended up being incredibly helpful and informative.

    In the end, there was no need for stress and my advice is to not fear that first email. Well, actually, you can fear it, but don’t let that stop you from clicking send! The worst that can happen is probably radio silence. With sociolinguistics, connections are possible everywhere – even between horses and language – and when you do find those links, reach for them!

    A lesson for me and a tip for the reader: When you want to find out about a professional field, a job, or an industry – search for connections! Alumni of your school, residents of your current locale or hometown, etc. And then reach out!

    Megan Phillips: Linguistic knowledge carries high stakes in the military

    Megan Phillips is a first year MLC student. She works for a research and development company supporting the federal government.
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    My father was in the military when I was growing up and I somehow always knew that I wanted to help the military when I started working. I concentrated in linguistics as an undergrad and wanted to specialize in sociolinguistics in graduate school, but it wasn’t until I read Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn’s two articles, “Fixing Intel” and “Left of Bang” that I started to see the applications of sociolinguistics to the defense industry. Gen. Flynn just recently retired from the Army; his final command was as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Before that he was the Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In the two articles, Gen. Flynn discusses what he calls human terrain analysis, now more commonly known as human geography, and how studying the human terrain, or sociocultural information, of a particular community is essential to understanding how to operate in a given area.

    For example, recently a movie called Lone Survivor was released, based on a book of the same name. Lone Survivor details the true story of a Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell who only survived a Taliban manhunt because of the ancient Afghan ethical code of Pashtunwali. One of the tenets of Pashtunwali is that of sanctuary (Nanawatai). If a person is given hospitality in a village, then they are under the village’s protection; their enemies become the village’s enemies and the village will fight to protect their guest. Nanawatai translates to sanctuary but derives from the verb “to go in”.

    Imagine what other such customs are hidden in the languages of the people that could help protect soldiers in war zones.

    Andrea Price: Language, justice and peace

    In this week’s post, Andrea Price (MLC ’15) tells us about her new internship, in which she integrates her understanding of linguistic practice with a passion for social justice work.

    Andrea Price

    During this academic year, I am the Peace and Justice intern for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). My internship is funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a program in the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The CCHD funds grants for non-profits which promote social justice and human dignity throughout the US. My ultimate goal is to connect college campuses with CCHD-funded organizations, but my other duties include taking minutes at committee meetings, marketing for and organizing a conference, and managing our peace and justice blog.
    While this position does not seem terribly “linguistic-y,” I am already thrilled about linguistic connections I’ve seen in my work. Language is terribly important for the Catholic Church, particularly because it’s an often misjudged and misunderstood religion. I perceive different tones, vibes, and flavors every time I read through Catholic newsletters at work, even though all of these different voices hold the same inner values. I hope to slowly uncover exactly how these representations of Catholicism seem so different.
    Additionally, I am learning about the national (and global) implications of participation in a worldwide religion, particularly through learning about ACCU’s member colleges all over the US. While each university is unique, most seem to utilize and respond to specific, unifying vocabulary. In the coming months, I hope to deepen my understanding of how diverse Catholics use language, whether they converge with or diverge from each other.

    Job Searching Above and Beyond Your Discipline

    Aisulu Raspayeva is a second year PhD student in the Georgetown Linguistics Department.

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    A job search doesn’t start when it’s convenient for you – it starts when you make it start. And planning can start the very moment we enter the educational programs meant to prepare us for our careers. This preparation can take us on unexpected journeys.

    One of such journeys was my internship search for the summer of 2015. My intention was and is to find a position at which I can apply my sociolinguistic skills with a focus on intercultural communication.

    On the website of Georgetown International Student Office, I found a compiled list of international organizations that do not require work authorization for the international students. My criteria for a ‘good fit’ at this point? “Something that sounds language-y…ish”. Six looked promising for a linguist: World Bank, UN, UNESCO, International Secretariat for Volunteer Service, International Telecommunication Union, and International Development Law Institute. Disappointed, I thought, “Only six?! The odds aren’t good…”

    Luckily, I had a great supervisor at my summer job who is a specialist in human resources and took many courses on marketing and business development at the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies. I ran straight to him to ask for help. We sat together and started brainstorming. Surprisingly, his first question was what industries are of great importance in Kazakhstan. Without hesitation I replied: agriculture and tourism. Thus, my list was improved with such organizations as Asian Development Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Cotton Institute, International Fertilizer Center, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Tourism Organization, World Trade Organization, and others totaling in 23 possibilities. Not bad, right?

    Of course, not all of them turned to have internship positions relevant to me, but the takeaway point is to go beyond a traditional understanding of linguistics as a field of knowledge limited to academia or think tanks only. Why not assist international experts in designing culturally appropriate materials for Kazakh farmers and small rural business? Or, why not to assist big international businesses in producing appealing ads and commercials for Kazakh resorts and national parks?

    No guarantee, but it is worth to try to think outside of the box!

    Why the MLC? Notes on sociolinguistics, translation, and localization

    Matt Mermel is a second-year MLC student. In addition to sociolinguistics, he is pursuing coursework in Arabic linguistics and national language processing, all of which further his goal of working in the translation and localization industry. Find out more about Matt on his LinkedIn profile. This week, Matt shares some insights on why he chose the MLC, and the links between the program and his chosen field.

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    The MLC’s emphasis on the professional applications of sociolinguistics distinguish the degree from so many other graduate programs in linguistics that primarily prepare one to enter the world of academia. These qualities, as well as the program’s high degree of customizability, constituted the main factors behind my decision to apply and enroll in the program nearly two years ago. Over the course of my first year of study in the program, it became apparent that the MLC is uniquely suited to prepare one for a career in the translation and localization industry.

    Broadly, the translation and localization industry refers to the adaptation of corporate products, services, and communications from the sociolinguistic standards of a source country to those of a target market. Accurate, effective translation goes far beyond simply substituting the words of one language with their equivalent terms in another. Rather, it requires the adaptation and transmission of the original message’s intent, context, style, and tone and to the expectations of the target language as well.

    Scholarly definitions of translation, such as that articulated by Bell as “the expression in another language…of what has been expressed in [the] source language, preserving semantic and stylistic equivalencies,” (1991:5), intricately link the act of translation with awareness of the target language’s communicative norms and conventions. Clearly, then, accurate and effective translation lies within the domain of sociolinguists. The MLC is firmly a professionally oriented linguistics program, and to me, the program is preparing me very well for my career in translation and localization.

    —-
    Bell, Roger T. (1991). Translation and Translating: Theory and Practice. New York: Longman Inc.