Building Confidence through Language Learning
By KellyAnn Tsai
Leah Walko is ready for the future. Thanks to her coursework in the Department of Modern Languages’ German Studies program—and an eye-opening summer internship—Walko feels ready to face the unknown, wherever in the world it may take her.
Walko is a senior majoring in information systems and minoring in media design. She had no experience with German before attending Carnegie Mellon, but began taking language classes to help boost her career prospects. “It occurred to me that knowing another language in general would be a good thing, because it makes communicating overseas easier,” said Walko.
Since Walko’s sophomore year, she has been a dedicated student of German Studies, working her way up from Elementary German I to advanced-level German courses taught entirely in the language. Her dedication to her German Studies courses caught the attention of Martina Wells, Principal Lecturer of German Studies. Wells manages the German Studies internship program and thought Walko would be a perfect fit for an upcoming opportunity.
“When I reached out to my students to gauge interest in internship opportunities in Germany in the summer, Leah was among the first ones to respond with an enthusiastic yes,” said Wells. “Her skills and interests matched perfectly with the internship description of one of the German companies. Knowing Leah from my courses, I felt strongly that she could handle an international professional work experience.”
Over the summer, Walko completed a summer internship with GoTo, a global SaaS company with more than 3,500 global employees, over $1.3 billion in annual revenue and tens of millions of users. While most of her internship was remote, Walko worked directly with colleagues based in GoTo’s office in Karlsruhe, Germany and concluded her internship with a weeklong visit to the German office.
“What was great about my internship was it was related to my major,” said Walko. “I mostly did UX design for their design system. [In class] I've used platforms like Figma, or I've learned about Jira, and I actually got to use them in an actual work setting and learn how a company will use them.”
Beyond gaining hands-on experience related to her chosen field, Walko also experienced working at a truly global company. Her coworkers came from various countries around the world and shared with Walko their personal experiences living and working abroad, from the experience of getting a work visa to the culture shock they encountered. “I basically got to learn all these different things about the experience [of moving abroad],” said Walko.
Between using her classroom skills in a professional environment, interacting with co-workers, and traveling to Germany on her own, “there were so many things of value I got from [my internship],” said Walko. But “the thing that improved most was my courage to mess up when trying to speak another language—to just try and go for it.”
A senior finishing up her final two semesters, Walko now feels less limited in her options for careers. Moving to Germany may not necessarily be part of her future plans, but the skills she developed learning a language and traveling abroad will stay with her. “Going through this experience, I feel more confident that I can prepare myself and handle the challenges that may come with working abroad,” Walko said.
Although pursuing German Studies courses in between her major and minor requirements has been a challenge, Walko does not regret it.
“You never know what you're going to encounter and what knowledge will be helpful and applicable to what you're doing. So from my point of view, the more you know and the more you learn, the better,” Walko said. “It's not a waste of time to try new things.”