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Elevating Language Learning | Open Doors for Your Career, Build Trust through Multilingualism

Elevating Language Learning Series: Elevating Conversations Between Language Students and Multilingual Leaders

About this Conversation:

 JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the first conversation in our Elevating Language Learning Series. In this conversation, Sarah Bagwell, a student with a passion for languages at the College of Charleston, joins Edward Branagan, a multilingual leader using his talents as the Education Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development, to discuss the value of language learning and cultural exchange.

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The transcript for the episode can be found below.



Sarah Bagwell (00:32):

So how is your leadership affected by your multilingualism?

Edward Branagan (00:37):

I am a USAID, that's the United States Agency for International Development Foreign Service Officer, and my specialty is education. I've worked for over the last 10 years in international education at universities abroad providing access to higher education for marginalized communities groups. I've also founded a nonprofit called Global Playground that tries to expand access to education in developing countries. I worked for about 10 years in central Europe and I worked with eight different countries when I was over there in Hungary and I supervised around nine different directors. So it was difficult to try to essentially bring everyone together and get us focusing on our particular task. But I did find when I visited each country, I tried to learn a little bit of their language, greetings, hellos, thank yous, ways to compliment people as well. I think we were able to manage working through some pretty big challenges in those two years that I was working with these teams, and I really do think language played a big role in building that particular trust.


Just reflecting back on the work that Global Playground has done, we've worked in over 10 different countries, implemented over 15 different projects, and being a Thai English speaker has really allowed me to have conversations with communities in northern Thailand with directors of schools, with international organizations and try to essentially agree on a project that would be beneficial for the community. And even you could say the country, the nation as a whole. These tend to be small projects, but again, being a multilingual, I think has really enabled me to help build partnership and really move between different cultures to once again, build trust and also goodwill. I'd say, yeah, I'll turn the tables on you and ask you why is learning another language important to you?

Sarah Bagwell (03:25):

So learning another language has allowed me to connect with people and establish more mutual understanding and cross-cultural interaction in general with other people. So it's opened both in careers, even though I'm still in college,  I've already had the opportunity to use Spanish in several on campus jobs with tutoring and education, and I've also worked at a nonprofit where we helped minority communities, including people who speak Spanish. So I've already found it useful even though I haven't graduated college yet and I'm looking forward to seeing the other opportunities that'll hold for me in the future in my career.

Edward Branagan (04:06):

Wow. I have to say, I'm heartened to hear that you're taking your Spanish language skills outside of the classroom and using them to serve communities. That's wonderful.

Sarah Bagwell (04:17):

Thank you. I think it's been incredibly meaningful and like we've been saying the whole time, it really just connects people in a unique way that I probably wouldn't gain other perspectives without the chance to communicate in that way.

Edward Branagan (04:29):

Could you tell me about a time when being multilingual made a difference in your life?

Sarah Bagwell (04:35):

Yeah, so I was able to study abroad in a small town in Spain last semester through my college, and I lived with the host mom who only spoke Spanish. So immediately that was a challenge for me because we didn't have any other way to communicate with each other, but our nightly conversations that we had, we were able to form a pretty deep connection that way and a good friendship.

Edward Branagan (04:59):

Yeah. Perhaps I'd ask, with that particular experience, what do you think that will lead you to do? Or has that changed your particular disposition or idea as to what you want to do in the future or what you could do?

Sarah Bagwell (05:19):

It definitely has. That was a very life-changing experience and I am planning on going to Spain for a year next year and teaching English in between grad school and undergrad. So I think that would be an amazing way to continue learning my own language and continue immersing in the language and living in Spain. But in terms of careers, I think it made me realize how interesting cultural interaction is to me, and I'm interested in looking at careers that deal with diplomacy or in general, getting to work in an international context in my daily life like you do.

Edward Branagan (06:00):

Wow, that's wonderful to hear, really, and I mean, I'm proud, really, of the fact that you're taking, you know,  it takes courage to go overseas to do that experience and also to pursue even that year of teaching English. Sometimes you don't always know what you're going to get out of that particular experience, but I think it's a courageous decision in many ways to do, because there's a lot of unknown, but there's a lot that can be gained as well.

Sarah Bagwell (06:36):

Well, I guess another question that I do have for you is what did you study when you were an undergraduate? Did you have any to international or language? Yeah.

Edward Branagan (06:47):

Yeah, when I was at college, I actually studied finance business, but I took a summer abroad. I went a summer abroad to Costa Rica and learned Spanish. I had previous Spanish knowledge, but I didn't really speak it, so I spent a summer learning Spanish, and it was that particular experience that showed me the power. I'm an 18-year-old going to Costa Rica, and I was like, wow, I can actually communicate by myself in a different language and get around. There was this, I guess, sense of empowerment agency that I realized at that age of 18 and from that particular experience that led me to go and teach English overseas in Bosnia the next summer, not having learned a word of Bosnian, not really knowing much, but I went through a volunteer program sponsored by my university, and that changed my life. That got me into the world of education and development, post-conflict reconstruction.

And I guess since then, those two particular experiences, I can say, really impacted my life and got me somehow to where I am here today. You may not know exactly where you're going to go, where you'll be in 20 years. I didn't. But it's that particular interest and motivation that perhaps you never lose that, whether you call it a calling or just a passion that sort of sticks with you, I think. And if you pursue it, you find yourself ideally living a very meaningful life and enjoyable one, but at the same time making a difference as well.

Sarah Bagwell (08:47):

And actually, that's just such an encouraging thing to hear and very inspiring since you're doing pretty much the exact path that I'm interested in and dreaming of. So it's really amazing to hear how you got there, and hopefully I can follow suit somehow. So thank you.


This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit 


About JNCL-NCLIS: Established in 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) unites a national network of leading organizations and businesses comprised of over 300,000 language professionals to advocate for equitable language learning opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language.

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