Class of 2019: Katherine Louis Explores Connection Between Languages and Culture

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Katherine Louis
Katherine Louis rides a camel in Oman. Photo courtesy of Katherine Simko

Katherine Louis’ passion for languages started developing in third grade. The senior from Norfolk, Virginia, says she has always been “fascinated by the way words manifest themselves into ideas differently across cultures.” That fascination spurred her to study abroad not once but twice.

Adopting a Spanish major with Arabic and Japanese as minors in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Louis noticed early in her student experience that languages fit perfectly with studying abroad. “If I truly want to be great at these languages, I need to be willing to put myself in the positions to get better. Why not study abroad?”

She kicked off her journeys at the University of Oviedo in Spain. On her own, Louis faced everyday life challenges, such as opening a bank account and finding an affordable place to live. She pushed herself throughout the semester to dive into Spanish culture and to learn from conversations with people. “I don’t want to paint it as just filled with challenges, but I think that’s what I really loved. I felt truly challenged by the experience.”

The following summer, Louis trekked to another part of the world to take part in VT Arabic in Oman, a four-week faculty-led program. “When you’re learning a foreign language, unplanned circumstances are really what make a new vocabulary stick in your mind. I was worried that a more structured program might limit these spontaneous interactions,” Louis said.

The program allowed for the cultural exchange opportunities Louis was looking for. “The experience really expanded my perspectives of other cultures, specifically in how people see themselves versus how they are portrayed through the news and social media,” she said.

At first, Louis saw the expenses of studying abroad as a significant barrier, but she strove to meet the challenge. “Once you tell yourself that something is impossible, that’s the exact moment it becomes so. My dad once told me that ‘possible is relative to the effort you’re willing to put toward your goal,’” she said.

Louis received several scholarships to fund her experiences, including one from the Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Louis currently works as a student aide at the Language and Culture Institute. Pamela Smart-Smith, assistant director for academics, said Louis provides vital support to the institute’s international students. “She relates well to them due in large part to her own experiences learning languages and studying abroad. She knows firsthand what it’s like to be a student in another country.”

After graduation, Louis will join the Cranwell International Center as a program assistant. She hopes the position will allow her to build experience that will lead to graduate school, where she plans to specialize in international law.

Louis said studying abroad motivated her. “I feel more comfortable in situations, and I’ve become a better listener,” she said. “Giving yourself the opportunity and space to grow is so important.”

Written by Rebecca Poutasse, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism in the Department of Communication