Jane Koch

Jane Koch

Sophomore majoring in Italian Studies and French


How did you become interested in language studies?

I actually started because I studied French in high school. I had to choose between French, Spanish, or Latin. It was actually my worst subject in high school for like two years, and then once I decided to go abroad and spent a summer with a host family, I really fell in love with learning language because I saw the practicality in it. So the next summer I went abroad and my roommate was Italian. We were both studying French together and I thought, ‘You know, Italian is very similar to French,’ and I loved to see the similarities between the two – especially the spoken languages.

I kind of started thinking about picking up Italian when I went to college, and my dad also started studying Italian. He’d go to D.C. every Sunday to go to class for three years. He would speak it at home, and I could kind of pick it up because I knew French, so that was more reason to start studying Italian.

Then when I came here, I took an accelerated introduction course because I already had a background in a romance language. It was a really fast-paced course, but I really loved how much progress I made within a semester and I got addicted to it. I thought I was going to minor in it, but then I went to study abroad in Italy and decided I was going to major in it because I was already going to be done with my minor in a year.

So you’ve already had three study abroad experiences? When were these?

Yes. Two in high school. My first one was going into junior year or high school, and then the second was going into senior year. And then in Italy after my freshman year at Purdue.

What was it about the one in Italy that convinced you on this major?

It was the same experience of going to another country, being immersed in the culture, hearing the language everywhere you go. It’s so rewarding, I think, being able to express yourself to other people in another language. I remember going to a restaurant and ordering just a pizza and I felt so proud of myself for being able to communicate. Little stuff like that makes you amazed at how powerful simple sentences and phrases are and how much more I could learn and improve on the basis of the language.

Are you able to put a finger on what it is about studying languages that is so interesting to you?

I think it’s the culture. I’m still the same person, but the way I express myself and the way that I phrase things – and also probably the way that I think about things – is dependent on how the language works. What is it that people talk about and how do they talk about that? So in a sense, I’m different when I speak French or I’m different when I speak Italian because of the way I express myself or the way I express things, which is really interesting. So I love that.

I also love that there’s always something that I will learn while speaking it or studying it. So I’ll always be reading something or want to say something, and I don’t exactly know how to get around it, but then you go on and you pass the hurdle and there’s still something else. There’s continuation that’s always somewhat difficult.

Do you have a short-term or long-term objective of living in Italy or France where you’ll speak these languages?

When I first started studying abroad in the summer, the main native speakers that I spent time with were the teachers in school. So I kind of always thought, ‘Oh, I can go to Italy or France or some Western African country and teach English,’ because that would be very beneficial. I’d want to be in their shoes, the people that are teaching me language. I’d love to give that back to someone. It’s really cool, and I’d love to do that.

I think I get a little scared sometimes because I’m majoring in language and I don’t really know what I want to do after college, so I went on all these different paths. Like second semester of freshman year, I wanted to be pre-med. It was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be a doctor. Everything’s laid out for me, and I’ll have language where I can communicate with foreign patients, or I can go work abroad being a doctor.’

And now I’m doing ROTC, so something more in intelligence where I can be somewhat in a diplomatic position. So it kind of depends. That is what is attractive to me right now, and it’s kind of shaped by the courses that I take as to what seems most interesting. But as far as living in another country, I definitely want to do that, and more so I’d say relations right now because I’m doing cultural studies with one of my Italian professors.

A cool thing with liberal arts is that there are a lot of avenues you can explore. You’re not boxed into one particular career.

Yeah, multiple different areas, especially within Italian, too. It’s like, ‘What do you want to focus on? Is it literature? Is it grammar? Is it movie/cinema? Teaching second-language acquisition? Stuff like that. A lot of the courses that I’m going to take for the major give you exposure in all those different areas and you choose what you want to do afterwards or go to grad school.

How many people are in your major classes?

I’d say 12 to 15, which I love because I also came from a small private school. Coming to Purdue was really daunting because I had 37 kids in my graduating class, so when I was pre-med, I was in the giant lecture halls and I felt like a number, almost. Especially with liberal arts classes, and language particularly, it’s small classroom settings and I’ve really grown close to a lot of my teachers. Tatjana (Babic Williams), the one I’ve had the most, I see her more like a mentor now. I love that you can just go to their office hours, talk to them, and they know who you are and they care about you and what you want to do. Not just how you’re doing in the course.

It seems like a small classroom setting would be really beneficial when you’re trying to pick up a new language.?

Yeah. I think that’s what has made me feel more comfortable, especially in languages, is that it’s a familiar environment. I do know all the students in the class and you’re less nervous because you know who everybody is, and you know who the professor is and it’s just a little more close-knit community.

When did you switch to Italian studies and French?

I came in as a French major, so I’m keeping that. And Italian, I declared this past semester, fall of 2018.

Is there a relationship between studying languages and doing ROTC?

I considered ROTC, or I thought that the military would be a cool option to get my foot in the door, and then after doing four years I could have experience and go into the workforce somehow. I didn’t really know what.

I have a few friends now that are seniors in ROTC and they’re talking about their branching, what they’re going to do afterwards, and how your major doesn’t really relate to what you’re assigned to in the Army. But one guy was talking about civil affairs, which is where they send you to a language institute for six months to a year and you learn foreign languages that they assign you. And then after that, you are assigned to one of those countries and you are building our foreign relations. So if you needed anything in that area, you would already know people.

That seemed really interesting because I love the cultural aspect. I love trying to understand other people. I love trying to communicate in another language with other people. That’s why I started with languages, so I thought that would be an interesting path to go down.

Also the military is something that you don’t get in the civilian sector, necessarily. You’d have top-secret security clearance and whatnot. That seemed really intriguing. And then intelligence is what I’d go into after ROTC. I’d try to go into intelligence because, again, it’s puzzles and patterns, which I think is kind or like languages. It’s all about seeing the formulas within sentence structure and whatnot, and it kind of relates to languages in that area.

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