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Cardinal Stories From Modern Foreign Langauge Students

SVSU offers a wide variety of study abroad experiences for students to explore while embarking on their degree in Modern Foreign Languages. From Japan and Spain to France or Germany, students have the opportunity to travel to the wonderful cultures they’ve studied within the classes of SVSU.

In these extended Cardinal Stories, students get to share their one-of-a-kind experiences of connecting and serving within the foreign communities that they’ve now come to think of as another home. Their stories invite future generations of SVSU students to learn and grow in real-world settings meant to nurture their fondness for other languages and cultures.

Japanese Honor Students: Bunnie Foster, Holly Schaub, and Jake Dickson

Congratulations to our Japanese Honor Students Bunnie Foster, Holly Schaub, and Jake Dickson who were initiated into Alpha Mu Gamma (AMG) on April 12, 2024. AMG is a national organization that recognizes distinguished study in foreign languages. The benefits of AMG membership are many such as being eligible for scholarships supporting study abroad. Moreover, AMG membership is an excellent addition to a graduate's resume, as it is recognized by federal employers and the military as a sign of achievement. 

Courtney McTaggart

I have always had a passion for learning about and experiencing other cultures, specifically Japan, so when I found the International Studies program at SVSU and learned that they offered Japanese, I was so excited!

SVSU has played such a large role in guiding me towards my current career path and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to study in an such a supportive and nurturing environment. I was offered classes that helped me to learn about other cultures and taught me intercultural communication skills that have turned out to be key in my interactions with partner countries when I send students abroad. I also was able to learn about the JET Program through Dr. Monika Dix, my Japanese professor. I have since been accepted to this program, which has been such a wonderful and exciting opportunity!

The JET Program (The Japan Exchange Teaching Program) was founded in 1987 and has sent more than 66,000 participants from over 40 countries around the world to work in schools, boards of education, and government offices throughout Japan. There are 4,000-5,000 applications from the U.S. each year and around 1,100 participants are selected. Being accepted to the JET Program has been unbelievable, as it allows me the opportunity to act as a cultural ambassador for the United States to Japan. I will be working as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in elementary and junior high schools and have been placed in the beautiful city of Hirosaki, which is located in the Aomori prefecture. As somebody who has always adored and dreamed of Japan and found beauty in the country, culture, and language, I am deeply honored to be part of such a wonderful program. I owe many of the skills that got me here to SVSU and my past professors so I am determined to make them and myself proud.

Tere Elizalde

I’ve always been interested in studying different cultures and foreign languages, so when I saw that SVSU had several languages available, including Japanese, I knew where I wanted to attend.
At SVSU, I major in International Studies and Spanish, and minor in Japanese, History, and Sociology.

Studying foreign languages here at SVSU has been a great experience. I’ve had many really great classes that have helped me learn so much. In all of my foreign language classes, whether Japanese or Spanish, I’ve studied the language and culture of Japan or Latin America through video, literature, discussions often in the target languages. I’ve also had some challenging courses such as translation in Spanish and Japanese literature that I feel have really improved my skills in those languages. In addition, all the faculty in the MFL department have been helpful and supportive. They are always willing to answer questions about the work and are encouraging in future goals.

I also had the opportunity to study abroad in 2018 at SVSU’s sister university, Shikoku University where I studied Japanese language and culture including an indigo class, where I got to learn about a local art and industry. It really helped me improve my listening skills in Japanese especially when the class was entirely in Japanese and I didn’t always have someone that could translate. In addition, I was encouraged to travel throughout Japan during my stay so I also had the opportunity to speak and rely on my own Japanese skills, whether it was simply having a conversation or asking for help after getting lost, I actually got to put my what I learned into practice. I got to meet so many kind people and have lots of fun experiences all over the country.

Because of my experiences here at SVSU and abroad, I was able to figure my next step after graduation. With the encouragement of my professors in the MFL department, I applied for graduate school so I could continue studying Japanese and got accepted. In the fall of 2019, I’ll get to study Japanese as part of the Master’s Program in International and Regional Studies at the University of Michigan.

Natasha Riegle

Empowered by her studies in Saginaw Valley State University’s Modern Foreign Languages department, student Natasha Riegle is taking her love of Japanese language to the land where it’s spoken. The Saginaw woman in August 2017 traveled to Japan’s Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Japan, where she is enrolled in the institution’s Asian Studies Program. Riegle, who is studying for a minor in Japanese at SVSU, plans to return to the United States in June 2018.

She said SVSU’s Japanese language academic program provided her with the experience and knowledge necessary for her studies abroad. There, she has continued learning the language while also studying the nation’s culture, history, political system and economics.

“I am enjoying my time in Japan even more than I expected,” she said. “It is a beautiful country with so many things to experience. I’ve learned a lot and improved in many ways. Most importantly, I’ve been able to meet some of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

Last year, Riegle applied for the Boren Scholarship, an initiative of the U.S. National Security Education Program aimed at funding opportunities for undergraduate students studying less-commonly taught languages. Riegle’s application was approved, helping her fund the overseas trip.

Riegle said she has been interested in the Japanese language since she was a child.

“I like foreign languages, and because Japanese is so different from others, it’s very fun and interesting to study,” she said. “I wanted to expand my language proficiency from just Russian and English to Japanese as well. The fact that SVSU has a Japanese minor program was one of the main deciding factors for me to choose this university.”

Before she returns to SVSU, Riegle will serve as an intern at Osaka-based Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc., a major transport company in Japan.
“I will have a chance to apply and improve my Japanese language abilities, as well as experience the Japanese work culture,” she said.

SVSU’s Department of Modern Foreign Languages offers majors in French and Spanish and minors in French, Japanese and Spanish.

Madison Savard

I am a senior at SVSU with a major in Elementary Education and a double minor in Spanish and Teaching English as a Second Language. I have had a love for studying language since I began my study of Spanish in high school. Since then, my love had only grown deeper through my experiences while at SVSU.

The faculty in the Spanish department challenged me to grow as a more conscious and proficient learner of the Spanish language and culture while fostering my passion for my studies, encouraging my participation in studies abroad, and opening my eyes to more than I knew possible. Due to experiences offered to me in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and previous experiences abroad, I was selected to be a recipient of the Sigma Delta Pi Undergraduate Study Abroad Award. This award will allow me to complete two months of my student teaching at two elementary schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Olivos del Sol and La Escuela del Sol. I am thankful to be able to combine my passions—education, language, and travel—in the most authentic environment.

Haley Livingston

Haley graduated in December 2017 as a double Pre-Veterinary and French major. She is currently a student at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois. She is one of only two students in the United States of America who were accepted into the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program.

The program sent Haley to France to conduct veterinary research over the summer. Now, she has the opportunity to participate again, applying to a similar program in Greece for 2020. The French vet program's criteria required sufficient language proficiency to be able to conduct research in France, a qualification Haley well-surpassed. While at SVSU, Haley went beyond what was required of her in the classroom to develop her language skills while also completing a challenging pre-professional program of study. She is eager to embrace her next big step in life while adding to her language toolkit along the way.

Heather Speer

Heather Speer may be a psychology major, but she wanted to take a step out of the box by enlisting in some German courses. After all, some of Heather’s fondest memories are of attending kindergarten while she momentarily lived in Germany with her family as a young sprout. Ever since, it’s been her dream to one day return for a visit.

“I would like to go back one day,” she says. “It’s a completely different place now. And I want to experience it as an adult that can speak the language.”

In her German classes, Heather has had some amazing experiences. Last semester she and her fellow students visited the Roethke House and sang Christmas carols in German and she’s been an avid participant in Alpha Mu Gamma events. She was also able to demonstrate her passion for Germany by speaking in German during a presentation where she was asked to reflect on her personal experiences of living abroad as a youngster and studying as an adult.

After graduation, Heather took her language experiences to graduate school to advance her study in psychology. “A lot of the history of psychology is in German,” Heather states. “Words, phrases, or roots of words are in German, so [knowing German] helps to understand the concepts.” She also emphasizes that students that apply themselves to a foreign language may become more flexible problem solvers – which is an invaluable tool in graduate school.

As our interview came to a close, Heather grew nostalgic as she reminisce about her time spent at SVSU. Her only regret being that she didn’t take a foreign language course earlier on. “I would’ve been able to do so more with the language,” she said. “There are more opportunities if you start sooner, the work starts to go beyond the basics.”

Ammara Saleem

Ammara Saleem was only able to join the Department of Modern Foreign Languages for one semester, but it had a lasting impact on her undergraduate experience.

As a native Pakistani, Ammara was able to complete a semester studying abroad in America. She chose SVSU and didn’t look back! Although a biochemistry major, she was adamant that she wanted to explore other cultures and thought the Department of Modern Foreign Languages would afford her the best opportunity to do so.

In no time at all, Ammara was enthusiastically jumping into American Sign Language (ASL) courses. She was thrilled to find that her time spent communicating in a different way felt more like a fascinating hobby – it was so much fun!

“It entrenched me with different aspects of learning American culture,” Ammara eagerly shared.

To date, she relishes her memories of the International Student Club, learning and exploring ASL and volunteering with other SVSU students. She truly felt a strong sense of community during her time abroad and, understandably, wishes the same to be true for others.

“Every language is the way of expression of culture and thoughts of people [in] that area,” Ammara said.

For that reason, understanding ASL is something Ammara believes is important and credits Professor Raschke for being an amazing ASL professor. But, beyond the classroom, Ammara likes to show appreciation to many of the individuals who contributed to her success and her cultural experience in America – including everyone from her parents to her other SVSU professors and even her fellow Cardinals!

In the end, Ammara left with countless friendships and amazing memories to last a lifetime. More importantly, though, she left with a new dream – the dream to use her ASL skills in her future career as a biochemist.

“The deaf community can serve the nation,” Ammara explained.  “And, by studying this language, we can interact with them.”

And that’s just what this Cardinal plans to do...


Maribel Colorado-Garcia, Spanish Program
Curtiss 302
(989) 964-4632

Monika Dix, Modern Foreign Languages
Curtiss 144
(989) 964-4333

Julie Foss, French Program
Curtiss 189
(989) 964-4303