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How speaking a foreign language can benefit you in life, education, and career

Ever since my move to the US almost 11 years ago, my bilingual status benefited me in multiple ways. My exposure to Russian culture, literature, and history helped me connect with people I’ve met along the way, as I was sharing my heritage through humorous, myth-dispelling, yet often educational and thought-provoking conversations. Being able to shed insight on another culture with others — be that in business context, where understanding of the unique cultural workplace landscape is crucial, or in other situations, where interest is driven by traveling, relationships, or academic pursuits — was always gratifying for me. Just as importantly, however, my ability to speak the Russian language and understand the culture opened doors to many exciting academic and professional opportunities. As companies I worked for acknowledged the importance of international exposure in an increasingly global marketplace, my bilingual status set me apart and allowed me to get involved in some fascinating projects.

Case in point is an exciting opportunity that came my way a few years ago while I was working at a major multinational consumer goods manufacturer. The company made a major strategic acquisition in Russia, and a team was being formed to conduct the consumer market due diligence in the new product category.

Tons of resources were thrown into this endeavor, which was CEO’s “pet project” and therefore extremely high-exposure and important. The team consisted of company’s “all stars” across functions – but none of them had ever traveled to or been familiar with Russia and its consumers.

Enter me. I held a pretty junior position at the time, but the word of my Russian heritage (coupled with relevant functional skills) quickly reached the team – and within days, I was involved in a meaningful way in a highly impactful project half across the world. I got a chance to not only contribute to the company’s first-ever international consumer research in the new product category, but also make a name for myself while working alongside company’s leadership.

This and several other global opportunities I got because of my knowledge of Russian language served me well as I was seeking admission to MBA. Business schools increasingly recognize the value of international exposure in today’s market, so the admission commission’s ears perked up as I was telling them about my bilingual status and global work. These points on my resume eventually helped me lend an exciting job at a highly-diversified multinational corporation – with more global opportunities to in the near future.

My overall message is, studying other languages and cultures can be personally enriching, as it expands your own cultural capital and helps those around you. But there is also a pragmatic dimension to this. As the world is becoming increasingly more “flat,” the ability to navigate parts of the world outside of your home country (by knowing the language, culture, history, customs, etc.) makes you a more “worldly” and culturally-sensitive individual, as well as a desirable professional.