Communication Arts Major, Scandinavian Studies Major
Since graduating from UW, I went on to complete a two year International Masters program at Stockholm University. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. After receiving my MA in Media and Communication Studies in 2014, I moved to San Francisco to begin a career in advertising.
I continued with Spanish when I first entered UW and decided that I wanted to expand my horizons. While I liked French, I decided to "get back to my roots" which are Swedish and Norwegian. I knew a bit of the Swedish language because my great uncle taught me a few words, and decided to go this route because I loved learning about the Swedish culture, including literature and history, in Scandinavian Studies courses. It was a very cool feeling to dive back into a language that hasn't been practiced in my family since my grandfather & his brother moved to the US.
Personally, moving abroad by myself was one of the best things I have ever done. I completely stepped out of my comfort zone in moving to Sweden. While people speak great English there, it was so rewarding to improve in Swedish and be able to be immersed in the wonderful cultural traditions and uncover new elements about the people and environment that I never would have experienced staying in the US. Now I view my Swedish education at UW as the solid foundation that was necessary to have in order to both make the decision to move abroad, and to jump into the language of the country.
Professionally, people align studying abroad and learning new languages to mean that a person is well-rounded, independent, forward-thinking and cultured. I feel that I am all of those things because of learning about languages and culture, as well as living in another country. The experience of learning new languages seems to automatically open up your mind to other experiences and you naturally view the world differently. Rather than having a single American English-speaking point-of-view, you become well-rounded in an organic, effortless way. People notice this.
Learning a language versus learning other subjects is already a different form of education. Every student is at a different level, yet these classes aren't ones that you can "coast" through. All of the students must consistently improve in order to move on and be successful at higher levels. This was a main difference that I saw - everyone wants to improve so that they can stay on par with other students. Students are enthusiastic, and active rather than passive.
Looking back I wish that I had taken more time to participate in our "Swedish Talking Table" at UW. This experience isn't only about practicing your language; its forming unique relationships that you can't have if you don't participate in a language club or other UW organization. Undergrad students, visiting students, graduate students, TAs, professors and even community members participated in this activity, which makes it a very unique and special time to connect with people you wouldn't otherwise.
Obviously living in Sweden helped me improve my Swedish greatly. In any large city there is a society or club that will have language practice sessions; in San Francisco I frequent the Swedish American Hall when they have events. It also helps that I love film and Scandinavian films especially :)
If you are able, study abroad, or save up and take 2-3 weeks to live in a country where you can practice your language. It is a really cool and powerful thing to be able to communicate with strangers in a language other than English, and the experience of traveling solo to other countries is unforgettable. You grow as a person like you can't imagine.