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MSU Alumnus Practicing What He Learned

Published: Thursday, 05 Nov 2015
Author: Joy M Whitten
Department: Latin American Studies Center

MSU alumnus Kristopher Wilson -- who majored in International Relations and Comparative Cultures and Politics and minored in Portuguese, while at MSU – credits his studies in Latin America for "strongly and directly" influencing his personal and professional development:

Wilson tailored his course selection to concentrate primarily on the economies and cultures of the Atlantic South America. Studying Spanish and Portuguese languages was key: since culture and language are intimately intertwined, studying both of these languages not only enabled him to interact easily in both Hispanophone and Lusophone environments, but they also provided crucial windows into the cultures of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin Americans. 

Two study abroad experiences in Latin America reinforced Wilson's coursework. In Brazil he witnessed firsthand the economic and social transformations taking place in one of the much-touted "BRIC" countries emerging as global powers. It was particularly important to Wilson that he did this alongside students from the Universidade Federal da Bahia, with whom he formed significant, close, and lasting friendships that continue to this day. He will attend the wedding of one of these friends in Brazil in May, 2016.

In Argentina, Wilson pursued an internship with a semi-governmental organization that promoted Argentinian exports in Southern Brazil. This afforded an excellent professional experience, as well as an opportunity to use both Spanish and Portuguese languages. Wilson lived with an Argentinian host family, who introduced him to a wide variety of Argentinian customs and norms. Immersed in the local culture, he became familiar with Argentinian cuisine, dress, political thought, and business practices, knowledge that has – somewhat to his surprise – served him well in his professional work post-graduation. For example, when recently asked by his employers to provide his opinion on company operations in Argentina, he was able to provide pertinent first-hand insight and business knowledge into his company's activities in that country. On a more personal level, he still enjoys his mate (chimarrão) at the office in Michigan.

Professionally, the value of his studies of Latin America became apparent even before he graduated. While still a student at MSU, he was hired as a research assistant for the Julian Samora Research Institute, an MSU-affiliated research institute devoted serving the Latino communities of the Midwest. In this position, he found that his ability to speak Spanish and his familiarity with US policies that affect Americans of Hispanic heritage and Latin American communities internationally were essential to the work.

Almost immediately following graduation, Wilson found employment with a multinational commercial relocation firm that offers services to corporate expatriates. He now works in the Americas division of a team of professionals dedicated to providing professional language instruction to corporate clients being relocated overseas by employers. His employers cited his familiarity with Latin American economics and cultural practices, his field experience, and his fluency in Portuguese and Spanish as reasons they offered him the position. Currently, his work environment is exceptionally international: on any given day, he must work in a minimum of three languages, often at the same time, and communicate with coworkers, clients and instructors in anywhere from five and fifteen countries in the Americas. Wilson credits his undergraduate experiences in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at MSU with providing the tools and knowledge he now uses in his work at the logistical intersections of geography, culture, language, and business.