Business forum pushes language skills

By Tatyana Safronova

The hallway of the third floor in the Illini Union was filled with groups of students engaged in fluent conversation in French and English on Thursday for the Tenth Annual French Means Business Forum.

The forum, hosted by the University’s French department, informed students about internships and employment opportunities in careers that require knowledge of foreign languages. Featured speakers included people from international businesses, like Maytag Corporation and Caterpillar Inc., as well as representatives from the University and from multi-cultural counseling organizations from Chicago.

Martha Quinlan, assistant director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, spoke about her experience as a young professional in search of work after graduation.

“I did that just two years ago,” said Quinlan, a University alumna with Bachelor degrees in French and International Studies. “I (came from) Champaign to Chicago and was looking for a job in the French field.”

Students from the Mahomet-Seymour High School attended the event to see Quinlan, who is also an alumna of the high school. Jessica Allhands, a senior at Mahomet-Seymour High School, found Quinlan’s focus on job applications as well as job and internship opportunities in Chicago especially helpful.

Farah Josephine Saleh, senior in LAS, talked about the apprehension she felt about entering the world of business. However, coming to the fair allowed her to speak with professionals and especially a University alumna working in the field. Saleh is pursuing a degree is Commercial French Studies.

“It reinforces the fact that you’re not alone,” Saleh said.

Tables that lined a wall of the hallway were covered with fliers from companies like Caterpillar, Inc., French-American Dictionaries, and guides to French and Canadian economics and life.

Matt Rosenstein, associate director of the University’s Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security, said students who attended the forum were “looking for specific … pearls of wisdom about what they can do with their language skills.”

Students also had the opportunity to market themselves by adding their curriculum vitae, a history of their academic, professional and personal achievements, to a file.

Elizabeth Martin, the University’s director of Commercial French Studies, accesses the file in order to match employers with students who possess the required attributes.

Martin conducted research to investigate the importance of being multilingual in business. She interviewed business executives and intercultural trainers in Chicago and throughout France.

“The general consensus was that both language and an intercultural perceptivity were … lacking on the part of Americans and international business,” Martin said. “We have the reputation of seeing things our own way and being a bit less flexible. I think that having a foreign language ability and especially cultural awareness will improve your ability to negotiate contracts, communicate with your clients, and you’ll be taken more seriously.”

The French language is used in West Africa with international organizations such as Peace Corps, the World Bank and the United Nations, she added.

“The market is becoming more global,” Martin said. “I think that the planet is becoming smaller, and if we want to be successful, we need to have an international prospective on our careers.”