All posts by Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.

Study Abroad Tip: Find a Conversation Partner. Improve Your French, Help Someone Else Improve their English


When you study abroad you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to take full advantage of the experience, especially when it comes to improving your language skills. One way to do this is to find a conversation partner in your host country. A conversation partner should be someone who a) is a native speaker and b) wants to practice his or her English, so that the relationship is mutual, and you’re helping one another.

Now you may be thinking, But I’m already practicing my French. Every day, everywhere, all the time, and I don’t doubt that you are. Ask yourself these questions though… and the answers might surprise you. Are the people I talk to in my day to day interactions correcting me? Are they helping me understand my mistakes? Are they teaching me the vocabulary words that I’m lacking? Chances are, the answer to at least one, if not more, of these is no.

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As far as your classmates are concerned, they’re in school to learn too, so teaching probably isn’t on their minds. Outside school, depending on your level of French, others may need to concentrate a little more to understand what you’re saying, just because they’re used to hearing native speakers. It isn’t likely they’ll be correcting you on the spot either with grammatical explanations or the proper etiquette of French linguistics.

Finally, there’s the unfortunate reality of people figuring out that English is your first language and switching to English in conversation simply because it’s faster and they’re impatient- obviously disappointing when you’ve travelled to France to practice your French. This is where the benefits of having a conversation partner come in.

What to look for in a conversation partner

Some study abroad programs offer their students conversation partners as an extracurricular activity, while others have been known to set up exchanges for students when requested. Ask your program. If need be you can set out in search of your own conversation partner.


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Choose carefully. A classmate, friend, relative of your host family, etc., who’s a native French speaker and wants to practice his or her English is an ideal choice, and preferably someone with language goals of their own- aspiring to speak a certain number of hours in English per month, increasing their overall level of fluency, or preparing for an upcoming trip to the U.S for example.

Recommended tips for a successful exchange

*Discuss your goals upfront with one another.

*Share your strengths and weakness, so you’ll each have an understanding of where the other may need extra help or practice. Be specific (maybe there’s one tense in particular that you don’t have a firm grasp of, or you’d like to expand your vocabulary relating to a particular theme or context.)

* Plan to meet regularly and at a minimum of once a week.

*Spend half the time speaking in English and half speaking in French.

*Bring a notebook and jot things down as you learn. You can study/ look back at your notes later.

*Meet in a public place, like the library or a café, etc. Please remember that above all, safety should be your number one concern when you are a student abroad.

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By nature, practicing your French with a native speaker who wants to improve his or her English is less intimidating that talking to other native speakers. You’ll be on the same level when it comes to language, so you’ll also be comfortable asking questions and learning from your mistakes. Be attentive when the tables are turned and you find yourself explaining all those idiomatic expressions we use in America and the rules of English grammar. As time goes by you’ll gain the confidence necessary to start speaking French more freely and more often with others, too, until eventually… you might just start sounding like a native speaker yourself.





Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.


Networking 101: An Essential Tool for College & Study Abroad Students

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College students have a lot of juggling to do. There are classes to attend, hundreds of pages to be read at any given moment in time, projects, research papers and exams, as well as figuring out what the heck you’re going to eat for your next meal, and figuring out a study abroad to name a few. But what if I were to tell you that there’s another important component of the collegiate juggling act, too? One that’s equally important, yet often gets overlooked. It’s called networking. (And no, just because you’re on Facebook doesn’t mean you’ve got that one covered.)

It unlikely future employers are going to come to you; you’ll have to go looking for them. According to a report from ABC News, 80% of today’s jobs are found through networking. ( Two good reasons why it makes sense to start growing relationships now, so that they’re established once you graduate and transition to the working world. This is just one more advantage of studying abroad.  You’ll have the opportunity to network abroad as well.

Let’s take a look at the following tips for getting started.     

Network with other students in your major and/or areas of interest. It may seem obvious, but for many students this is challenging in and of itself. Maybe you find it difficult just to break out of the comfort of your routine with classes and studying, or maybe you have a small circle of friends you spend most of your free time with. Try to introduce yourself to others outside your circle. Strike up conversation with fellow classmates- both native speakers and those in your program. Chances are you’ll have a lot to talk about if you’re studying the same thing. Stay connected to one another after classes end. Share information and resources.

Visit the Career Services Center at your home and host university. The Career Services Center is a valuable resource for all students. Learn how to build a better resume, practice your interviewing skills, and research job opportunities both abroad and at home. It’s also a great place to find out about networking opportunities in which students and alumni connect, on campus recruiting events, and job fairs. Take advantage of all of the services available to make helpful contacts.    

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Participate in campus activities and organizations. Find out what activities and organizations your host university has before you decide which one(s) are right for you. Join the student chapter of the professional organization in your field if there is one. The more involved you are, the more people you’ll meet and connect with, and more you can grow your network. It’ll help you break of your bubble, improve your skills, and maybe even develop new ones- all of which are potential resume builders in the very least. To read more about getting involved on campus visit

­­Set up a LinkedIn Profile. LinkedIn is designed for professional networking, but it also allows students with limited professional experience to highlight their academic successes and achievements as well as strengthen their existing network. On LinkedIn, users can conduct research on companies they may be interested in working for, join groups related to their areas of study and participate in group discussions, keep up on relevant industry information, and connect with recruiters.

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Build upon the experience you have. Have you done any volunteer work? A work-study? Do you have a part-time job or have you had a summer job? A paid or unpaid internship?   Do you have a good relationship with your supervisor? Connect, stay in touch, and don’t be shy about asking for recommendations for your LinkedIn profile. Look at each of these experiences as an opportunity to build your network.

Reach out to established professionals in your field. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, or to ask what the advantages and disadvantages to a particular career are. Networking while you’re still in college has a big advantage; there’s no pressure on the person you’re reaching out to since you aren’t looking for employment just yet. Not sure where to begin? Start with alumni. They’ll be glad to offer career assistance.

Don’t overlook your parents’ (and host parents’) friends, and your friends’ parents as potential connections. Like alumni, this is another subculture of people who genuinely want to see you succeed. They have decades’ worth of experience, which also means they’re probably well connected. And you never know who they might be able to put you in touch with.


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Talent, ambition and a solid education are all essential for career success, but it’s clear you also have to know people. There are a lot of great opportunities that you’ll hear about only because of who you know. So be proactive. Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back. If you find someone doesn’t want to connect, don’t worry. Just move on. The added bonus is that in no time, you’ll be building your confidence, too.


Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.


Advice for the Foreign Language Major: Things you can do now to set yourself apart from the competition later.

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It’s never too early to start planning your pathway to career success, and this is especially true if you’re a language major. The following suggestions are things that you can do now, to help you achieve your long term goals and rise above the competition later.

1. Spend one full year abroad.

Everyone who studies abroad benefits. That said, however, if you are planning to major in a language, please know that the choices you make long before you actually board the plane and travel to your host country will affect the overall success of your experience. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I would offer to anyone majoring in a foreign language is to spend as much time as possible abroad. There are many factors that come into play as students plan their programs abroad, including budget, expenses, and the concern for graduating on time, to name a few. Yet studies show that the more time you do spend abroad, the more linguistically and culturally competent you’ll become. Imagine the level of fluency that you could attain from living, studying, and traveling in a country where your major language is spoken for one full year. Then ask yourself, realistically, to what extent you could attain that same level of fluency if you stayed for one month. You may want to consider making some sacrifices so that you can lengthen the duration of your study abroad.


2.  Reconsider if you’re planning to live abroad with other American students.

Understandably, it is enticing to dream about the idea of living in Spain, France, Argentina, or wherever, with your BFFs. But it is also pretty much guaranteed you’ll spend a lot more time speaking in English if you do- something you can do for a lot less money back in the United States. There are several options as to exactly where your home away from home will be while you’re abroad. In all likelihood though, a homestay is your best bet for attaining the greatest possible level of fluency while in the host country.

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3. Attend a local university abroad.

This is another choice that will have considerable bearing on how much your language improves while you’re abroad. What school will you attend? There are advantages to attending a language institute, of course, however keep in mind that you’ll also be attending school with students from all over the globe who are there to learn the language just as you are. Again, there is no guarantee you won’t be speaking English when you’re not in classes together. Attending a local university where you’ll be fully immersed in the education system will result in greater long language proficiency.


4. Become proficient in a third language.

Anything you can do to set yourself apart from the rest of the competition is helpful, and knowledge of three languages or more certainly does just that for you on a resume. Many colleges and universities require a certain level of proficiency in a third language for foreign language majors. Take advantage of the requirement and make it your goal to achieve, at a minimum, conversational fluency in a third language by the time you graduate. Consider a double major, or a minor in a third language. Alternatively, many professors and TA’s will be happy to oblige if you politely ask to ‘sit in’ on their language classes.


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5. Develop other skills to enhance your major area of study as well.

There are countless ways to develop other skills that you can use in conjunction with your language proficiency to make your skill set unique. Perhaps you have an interest in teaching, or international politics, communications, or marketing. You can take classes in these areas at the university to pursue a minor, or an area of specialization. Join a club, or volunteer to enhance your skills. Don’t be afraid to try something new. College is a great time to do just that, to discover what you do and don’t like, to learn what your strengths and your weaknesses are. According to the Modern Language Association, language study in the Age of Globalization makes one a more effective local, national, and world citizen ( This isn’t news, of course, to any of us who majored in, or are currently majoring in a foreign language. But we need to ensure that future employers recognize the value of these skills, too. It may seem far away now, but one day, in the not too distant future, you’ll be putting together a resume that does just that.

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Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.