A&L language majors, minors flip for fully funded Foreign Language Internship Program

Victoria Gordon-Brown and Reid Ragsdale hit the jackpot last summer.

Gordon-Brown, a junior Italian and biochemistry major from London, studied climate change in Italy. And Ragsdale, a junior Spanish and Arts & Letters pre-health major from Nashville, Tennessee, interned with a physician in Costa Rica.

Through the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures' inaugural Foreign Language Internship Program (FLIP), they and nine of their Notre Dame peers traveled abroad for fully funded career-centered work and cultural engagement through immersion-based language learning.

“The CSLC is incredibly excited about this initiative because we recognize how important professional experience is to today’s students,” said Alessia Blad-Miller, director of the CSLC and a teaching professor of Italian. “FLIP is the perfect program for combining language learning with career readiness so students don’t have to choose between studying abroad or working an internship for their summer plans.”

Say yes to all the adventures’

For Gordon-Brown, working and living for a month in the small city of Orvieto in central Italy helped her become more self-reliant, confident, and bold.

“People say that the best way to learn a language is to go there — and it really is true, so I wanted to take this even further by living in a country as a working adult,” Gordon-Brown said. “I had to be brave and take charge to go out and talk to people and explore.”

At her internship in a lab at l‘Università delle Tre Età di Orvieto, Gordon-Brown researched how climate change affects local flora by analyzing enzymes involved in the ascorbic acid cycle. The interaction with colleagues  immersed her into the Italian language.

L Universit Delle Tre Et Di Orvieto
Victoria Gordon-Brown with her co-workers at l‘Università delle Tre Età di Orvieto.

“In a work environment, where everyone speaks only Italian, it really forces you to pick up words and phrases and improve quickly,” she said. “It was also great being able to do this simultaneously with developing my lab skills.”

Outside of work, Gordon-Brown explored other Italian towns such as Bagnoregio, a beautiful mountain-top village about 13 miles from Orvieto that is accessible only via a footbridge. The town is referred to as “la città che muore,” or the dying town, because its volcanic base is slowly crumbling into the valley below.

“From my visit there, I learned that nothing is permanent,” she said, “so you have to take advantage of every opportunity you can and make the most of things while they last.”.

The FLIP experience prepared Gordon-Brown for life after college; she plans to work in sales and trading in New York City.

“It’s a bit of a change from biochemistry and Italian,” she said. “But hopefully another exciting adventure.”

In a blog she penned about her experience, Gordon-Brown indicated her only regret was not eating more gelato.

“Say yes to applying, say yes to going, and say yes to all the adventures,” she wrote.

‘FLIP has inspired me to challenge myself’

Ragsdale’s pre-med internship at a family medical practice in Heredia, a town near San Jose in Costa Rica, combined his passions for medicine and Spanish. It also provided insight into how language can play a role in wellness.

“Witnessing the doctor-patient interactions that are so crucial in the health system was a great opportunity,” he said, adding that the doctor he worked with inspired him “to serve others with the same personability, attentiveness, and care that she utilizes in every interaction.”

Dr. Calvo and Reid Ragsdale

In his work, Ragsdale became immersed in Costa Rica’s universal health care system, which provided him with a fresh perspective on the United States’ health care industry.

Ragsdale also formed valuable friendships with his host family and the community and developed a true admiration for cultural diversity.

“The humanity of each person demands an openness to their story and journey that we must appreciate,” he said.

Ragsdale, a Glynn Family Honors Program scholar, discovered how much there is to learn outside of his textbooks, courses, and comfort zone.

“My knowledge of Spanish medical vocabulary was heightened through living and working in the target language,” he said. “I realize that my learning, worldview, and connections with others is heightened by the interactions and experiences we find beyond the classroom.

“FLIP has inspired me to continue to seek knowledge in ways that challenge myself and allow me to dig deeper. I am excited to continue exploring my interests in Spanish language and culture, and begin the journey to medical school.”

Apply now for summer 2024

Students with a major in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, or Spanish, or a minor in Greek, Irish, Korean, Latin, or Portuguese are encouraged to apply for a fully funded summer 2024 internship by Wednesday, Nov. 1.

For more information about the program and application process, visit the FLIP website, read the blogs from last summer’s participants, or email Alessia Blad-Miller.


Originally published by Beth Staples at al.nd.edu on October 24, 2023.