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Department ofModern Languages and Literatures


​Rachel Walker

A former student of ours who minored in Italian and graduated in 2015

While at SCU, I was a Psychology major and an Italian minor.  During my freshman orientation I signed up for an Italian class on a whim. This seemingly small decision turned out to be a major turning point in my life.  I originally intended only to take the minimum requirement  in order to graduate, but ended up taking more classes to prepare for studying abroad in Perugia, Italy.  I came back from Perugia with a new appreciation for other cultures (and my own), a sense of empowerment, and a serious case of wanderlust.  The experience was made more fulfilling having two years of Italian classes under my belt.  It gave me the freedom to explore other parts of Italy without being worried that I wouldn't be able to communicate.  For those of you that think you don't have room in your schedule to study a foreign language- I was able to graduate in three years with a major, a minor, and still have time to study abroad.  You can do it!

Looking back on my decision to minor in Italian, I felt that the time and effort was justified simply by how positive my study abroad experience was.  I did not know whether or not I would be able to use it in my career but it has turned out to be beneficial in several ways since I graduated.  This past summer I was selected to attend a colloquium in Trieste, Italy focusing on the study of language from the perspectives of psychology, linguistics, neurobiology, and computer science.  It is a lot easier to study the science of language learning if you have personal experience with learning a second language. Plus, being one of the only attendees who could navigate the city in Italian didn't hurt either.
I am able to combine both my psychology and Italian degrees in my current position with Lab126 (Amazon's research and development subsidiary). I am a speech and language research scientist working on Amazon's Alexa.  I collect natural language data, splitting time between the Sunnyvale and international offices. Looking back on the choices I made throughout my college career, that whim to take an Italian class may have been one of the most impactful.  While there is no way to know how much you will use a second (or third!) language in your life, there are a lot of doors that you shut by choosing not to.  So, potential foreign language students, I challenge you to be bold.
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