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French Bilingual Broncos – Bethany Poythress

I nervously smoothed my hair one final time before stepping into the CEO’s office. Rick Watson, President and CEO of my new organization, offered me a firm handshake and gestured to the couch across from his desk. I sat.

I had no real reason to be so nervous – my introduction to the CEO was just a formality. My soon-to-be-boss had already offered me a position at The Peregrine Fund, an international raptor conservation organization based in Boise, Idaho. Still, I wondered to myself, why on earth did he think that I – with my French and International Business degrees – would be qualified to work at a science-based organization?I’d only graduated college six months ago, and after flirting with grad school and a volunteer corps, I’d decided to try my hand at the job market. I’d known since the tail-end of my junior year of college that I wanted to work in conservation, but I wasn’t sure how (or if) a degree in French would open that door.But somehow – it had. In my initial interview my new boss Geoff had explained he didn’t want another scientist to write grants – he wanted someone with a liberal arts background who could write clearly yet creatively. He didn’t mind that the majority of my long-form essays had been written in French as opposed to English; in fact, I think it served to impress him all the more. And then, as I sat in the CEO’s office, I once again found myself discussing my French degree, beaming with happiness as the CEO casually mentioned that he believes everyone would benefit from speaking a second language.All my experiences in my first year of employment at The Peregrine Fund have affirmed the value of my experience with the French language. Although Spanish is often more relevant to the work the organization does in South America, I am the only French-speaking employee based in Boise, which means I add a unique value to the organization. I recently finished an English-to-French translation of a 14-page scientific survey for The Peregrine Fund, and my colleagues keep me in mind for any French-related needs that crop up.

Finally, on a more personal level, I am frequently reminded of how formative my study abroad experience in Lyon, France was to my development as an individual. Not only did studying abroad greatly improve my speaking, reading, and writing skills (in both French and English), but it helped me to discover new interests, develop confidence, and to learn to embrace change and spontaneity (a true rarity for my Type A personality). During my semester abroad, I made friends from all over the world and drew closer to people through our shared languages. The divide in the world can feel disheartening at times, but knowing a second language – French, in my case – bridges that gap, if only a little. As Nelson Mandela said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I am grateful to have developed some skills to get a little closer to speaking to the heart.