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8 Career preparation tips for foreign language majors

It is never too early to start planning what you will do when you graduate from college. In fact, the more consciously you plan, the better your chances of landing a job when you finish. You don't have to know exactly what you want to do when you get out of school in order to be honing your skills and gaining experiences that a future employer will find useful. As a language major, there are several things you can do while you are still a student to take charge of your future:

1. Spend a year or semester abroad.

An immersion experience will hone your language skills and allow you to familiarize yourself with the target culture first-hand. If you are a currently registered university student, visit your campus study abroad office. Also be sure to check out our pages devoted to Study abroad & Grants for study abroad.

Additional information can be found online:

Institute of International Education: IIE has a network of 22 offices worldwide and over 800 college and university members. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government and private sources. Study abroad information and a directory of study abroad programs arranged by subject, language, or country.
International Student Exchange and Study Abroad Resource Center: Advice and useful information for students wishing to study abroad.
Also see our list of books about studying abroad.

2. Take advantage of summer, semester, or year-long internship opportunities.

These are a good way to establish contacts and get relevant job experience before you graduate. Oftentimes a successful internship can lead to a long-term position. These may include work training experiences overseas or internships in your home country in which your language skills may be viewed as valuable.

CDS International: Summer and short-term (up to 18 months) internships. A variety of practical training opportunities for young professionals, students, educators, as well as labor, business and government representatives.
International Cooperative Education: Provides American college and university students with the opportunity to gain practical work experience in summer internships in Europe, Australia, Asia, and South America. Internships are available in a range of employment fields including retail sales, hospitals, banking, education and engineering.
Interexchange: Promotes international understanding through affordable intercultural and educational work/training programs. It places participants in the United States and abroad through cooperation with international partner organizations and government agencies.
Institute for Experiential Learning: Provides Washington, D.C.-based, substantive, academic creditworthy internships to college students from the U.S. and abroad. Programs include The Capital Experience, Embassy and Diplomatic Scholars Program, and Building Democracy.
U.S. Intelligence Agencies: Describes the many internship and fellowship opportunities in the Intelligence Community, many of which culminate in full-tie employment within an Intelligence Agency. Of particular interest to language learners is the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP), the objective of which is training and recruitment of analysts and linguists in certain critical areas.
USAID Internships: USAID offers student volunteer intern positions in its efforts to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms.
Student Jobs in government: One-stop shop for information on government agencies with student employment opportunities.
Student Educational Employment Program: Provides Federal employment opportunities to students who are enrolled or accepted for enrollment as degree seeking students taking at least a half-time academic, technical, or vocational course load in an accredited high school, technical, vocational, 2 or 4 year college or university, graduate or professional school.
Association for International Practical Training: AIPT creates global training and cultural exchange experiences by arranging on-the-job training programs both from and to the United States and provides program support before and during the international assignment.
Transitions abroad: Articles, resources, programs, and links on working abroad.
Intern Abroad:  International education database, searchable by country. Internships: Searchable database on international internships.
Idealist: Thousands of volunteer opportunities in 165 countries.

3. Declare a double major.

Today's global and rapidly changing job market demands employees who are flexible and who possess a broad range of skills. Combine your language major with something that is complementary and that fits your skills and interests. A double major will undoubtedly give you the best possible chances at employment.

4. Research occupations in languages.

Educate yourself about the various careers in languages. Not only will you learn which of these best fit your interests, but you will also learn what additional skill sets you might need to obtain. Contact professional associations related to your areas of interest and request information. Contact local professionals in careers that interest you and interview them and perhaps even shadow them for a day.

5. Browse job postings online.

Check online job databases to familiarize yourself with the types of positions that require foreign language skills. This will give you a feel for the qualifications and experience that employers are seeking and will help you take measures to better prepare yourself for your entry into the job market.

6. Volunteer your language skills.

What better way to gain some experience for your resume than to offer your language skills to non-profit or community organizations or in local hospitals or schools. There are also many short- and long-term international volunteer opportunities that require the ability to speak another language.

Volunteer International: Search by country or by field for volunteer opportunities throughout the Americas.
CIEE Volunteer projects: Search by country or by field for unique volunteer opportunities in 30 countries. Volunteers live in a camp and work with locals and other international volunteers.

7. Connect with the culture.

Your language ability is a great asset as an important conduit to the culture and people who speak that language. Make sure you keep up on happenings in the target language culture: Read a foreign language newspaper, subscribe to a foreign language news service online, get an international pen pal. These language contacts will keep you in the know on current issues and they will also help you keep your language skills current. Here are 15 more ideas for maintaining your language skills.

8. Carefully plan your degree.

Consult with your advisor early and frequently to ensure you are getting the best possible combination of courses. Especially when choosing electives, you will want to choose courses that complement each other.

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