Getting Multilingual with IVLP

By Catherine Johnson, IVLP Inter

Returning to Indianapolis after spending a semester studying abroad in Qatar, I did not expect to have many opportunities to put my Arabic language skills or business cards to use this summer. However, as I have learned so far from my time with The International Center, this internship experience is full of surprises and chances to bring my own skills and expertise to bear on my work

Before I elaborate, a bit of background would probably be appropriate. I was born and raised in Indianapolis, and I decided to spend this summer at home (much to my parents’ relief) after studying abroad in the spring semester. I am a rising senior in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where I am majoring in Culture and Politics and concentrating on a comparative study of the Abrahamic religions in the Middle East. I have completed three study abroad programs during my time at Georgetown: I studied in Paris to gain certification as proficient in French (Summer, 2011); Alexandria, Egypt to complete a year of Georgetown’s Arabic program (Summer, 2012); and, finally, in Doha, Qatar where I spent a semester at Georgetown’s branch campus, located in Education City. Between my time in DC and abroad, I was more than ready to spend my ‘last’ summer at home with my family and find an internship that would give me greater insight into work opportunities in Indianapolis for someone with my interests.
At The International Center, I am the intern for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), and I work with my supervisor, Beth Barich, to coordinate the groups of international visitors that come to Indianapolis through this Department of State program. I have so enjoyed getting the hands-on experience of working with Beth to prepare materials for the visitors, planning appointments and activities on their itineraries for their time with us, and, of course, accompanying the visitors to some of their professional appointments. The difference in working here is that—even as an intern—I am playing an integral role in how The International Center functions; none of us is simply answering phones or getting coffee. 
The most recent IVLP group to visit Indianapolis was a group from Afghanistan focusing on university administration, and I had the opportunity to go with them when they visited Ball State University. It was stunning—and so very wonderful—to realize, by the end of the day, that I had formed real bonds with many of the visitors; I didn’t speak their language, but with my knowledge of Arabic I was able to understand many of the basic themes of their conversations. Dropping them off at the hotel, when one of them asked me how to pronounce my name, I remembered my Arabic business cards. Because the script was the same, he could read the card himself. Without completely connecting via language, we were nonetheless able to communicate; a poignant moment I will not quickly forget.
In a couple days, I will have the chance to accompany a group of visitors from Saudi Arabia, and, needless to say, I am excited for one more opportunity to practice my Arabic and use those business cards. These are not opportunities that come along every day, and they remind me of how neat it is to be interning here this summer!