January 24, 2008

Major focuses on both business, foreign languages

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Learning by doing is the going philosophy in the Foreign Language and International Trade program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

FLIT, as the program is known, offers international business-minded undergraduates a specialized major that prepares both their language and their business skills. The program may be the only one of its kind to require that students apply what they've learned in an international internship.

Brooke H. H. Thibeault, associate director of the program, said the requirements emphasize business and foreign language, allowing a student the opportunity to streamline a course of study that emphasizes both the cultural and the practical. Electives help personalize a demanding required core.

A typical course of study sees a student learning accounting, business administration, finance, micro-, macro- and international economics, business data analysis, marketing management and other business classes as well as advanced language, business language and cultural courses. The cultural courses, Thibeault said, cover both high culture and popular customs. Students learn about the cultural high-marks that help define a country's identity as well as the customs and beliefs of the average person on the street. That kind of international cultural awareness can, for example, help international business students avoid some of the faux pas that can kill a business deal.

Thibeault said many students in this major study abroad before taking their internship abroad. "We encourage a study abroad session," she said. "The internship is really a mini-job, while study abroad gives a student a chance to travel and focus on the language."

FLIT offers a wide range of possible internships for student applications. If a student has a particular interest in a specific business and wants to find an internship not on the lengthy list, Thibeault does her best to facilitate fitting that student to the appropriate international position. FLIT has established internships in about two dozen Asian, western and eastern European, and Latin and South American countries with such companies as the Far East Broadcasting Co., NEC Electronics, Bayer AG, Verbund, Hewlett-Packard, Kuraray Chemical Co., Sanyo Kinzoku Co. and Michelin. For those who must or want to stay stateside, foreign language opportunities with state and federal agencies abound.

"It really depends on the person," Thibeault said. "If they have a special interest, we try to help. But about 50 percent of the students do their own networking if they have that specialized interest. They are limited only by what they want to do."

Kelly Drew, a senior FLIT student, is ready to go to Japan in the late spring, where she will work with Fukuoka International Church on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four islands. Drew is one of those who customized her internship. Her sister lived there for several years and attended the Protestant Christian church. Drew visited her sister and also lived in Japan for a year. She made her contacts with the church then.

Drew said she faces several challenges with her internship – among them, getting across the American concept of "internship."

"'Internship' is not a concept there," she said. "They don't even have a word for it."

Drew said she chose to work with the church because it will give her an opportunity to study marketing in a unique setting. Because Christianity is not a major religion in Japan, she said, churches like Fukuoka International have to market to attract new members.

Thibeault said FLIT almost always has at least one student in an internship at any given time. The shared experience of working and living in a foreign country tends to build community among the FLIT students, with FLIT alumni staying in touch years after graduation.

For more information on the major, see www.siu.edu/~dfll and follow the links through undergraduate programs. Contact Thibeault at flitstaf@siu.edu or call 618/453/5428. The major is part of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the College of Liberal Arts.