A Saginaw Valley State University student will spend part of the summer in Montreal as part of a new fellowship program that will lead to an internship at Morley.
Alan Rifenbark, a French and history double major from Bad Axe, will live and study at the University of Quebec at Montreal from July 5 to August 14.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity for me,” Rifenbark said. “It's neat that I will be in a truly bilingual city and I'm going to love talking with locals in French.”
Morley, a Saginaw Township-headquartered company with a global clientele base, is supporting the study abroad experience via the Morley French Immersion Fellowship. Rifenbark is the first student selected for the program meant for SVSU students exclusively.
The experience will allow Rifenbark to immerse himself in a French-speaking culture that speaks a dialect known as Québécois.
Then, beginning in January 2016, he will work as an intern at Morley, providing phone-based customer service for Quebec-based, Québécois-speaking individuals and businesses.
Jill Gushow, director of human resources at Morley, said officials with SVSU and Morley partnered because of the company's need for French-speaking associates, and particularly, Québécois dialect-speaking associates.
“Partnering with SVSU on this unique program is a win-win,” Gushow said. “Morley gets an opportunity to support local educational endeavors, and students learn specialized skills both in their cultural immersion experience and during the post-travel internship.”
Rifenbark, who expects to graduate from SVSU in December 2015, is an advocate for multilingualism. His passion for other languages began with French.
“I feel like I was born to speak French, and it was just dormant,” he said. “I remember I was 12 in a public library and I picked up a French phrase book and just started reading off the words for colors (in French). That was my first experience with the language and it just stuck with me.”
He plans to learn eight languages, including German, Italian, Dutch, Arabic and Portuguese. He already has a head start in learning French, Russian and Hungarian.
Rifenbark also hopes to travel to many of the nations where people speak those languages. He visited France in summer 2014, when he met one of his 10 foreign language-speaking pen pals from across the globe.
“It was such a thrilling time,” Rifenbark said of the trip to France. “Knowing the language, I didn't feel like a tourist. It made all the difference.”
He credits SVSU faculty with helping him advance his love of language.
“I love the Modern Foreign Languages department here,” he said. “They're so wonderful and inspiring. They're willing to help their students succeed no matter what.”
Rifenbark is the former president of SVSU's Alpha Mu Gamma foreign language honors society as well as the former founder and president of SVSU's Phi Alpha Theta history honors society. He plans to apply for graduate schools to study linguistics in fall 2016.
“Bilingualism matters,” he said. “It's such a benefit in terms of career outlets, and it lets you think in different ways. People who have knowledge of more than one language are better off. I feel so grateful for my knowledge of other languages.”
The fellowship is made possible by a contribution from Morley to the SVSU Foundation’s “Talent. Opportunity. Promise.” campaign. For more information, visit svsu.edu/campaign.