Kathleen Kervin Diamond
Having grown up around the world experiencing many different cultures, languages, and systems of education, Kathleen Kervin Diamond didn’t have any clear plans other than to master the French language when she studied abroad. But after a year in Nantes, what she emerged with was a profound experience that would lay the foundation for a fulfilling career as founder and owner of a full-service language company. Not only did she improve her French, but she found a mentor in IES Abroad’s first female Center Director Mme Suzanne Hugues. The authority, kindness, and quiet confidence of Mme Hugues would serve as a role model for Kathleen throughout her career—from the launch of her company Language Learning Enterprises, Inc. (LLE®) in 1979 to leading its growth over the next 30 years into a multimillion dollar corporation. In our interview, Kathleen reflects on the lasting impact of her relationship with Mme Hugues and why she created an endowed scholarship to support IES Abroad students studying foreign languages.
IES Abroad: You grew up around the world. Tell us a little about your background before studying abroad in Nantes.
Kathleen Kervin Diamond: I am the daughter of a commercial aviation pioneer. My father worked in management for Pan Am from 1946 until its collapse in December 1991. As a young child, I lived in seven different countries before I was seven and attended just about as many different schools: Early Years Foundation Stage in the British systems of Jamaica and Trinidad; Educación Primaria in the Spanish systems of Uruguay and Venezuela; Secondary Education in the British system of Barbados and in the U.S. system in Florida and the Panama Canal Zone; and finally, Higher Education in the U.S. system at the large and public University of Florida. By the time I arrived in Nantes for my junior year abroad, I had already experienced a multilingual, multicultural, rich, and interesting student life. I had been taught by straight-backed English school mistresses, gentle yet firm Catholic nuns from various Orders, and an array of American teachers, who were the most puzzling of all in their sometimes futile quest for discipline in the classroom.
IES Abroad: How was IES Abroad Nantes Center Director Mme Hugues different than other educators you had encountered?
KKD: Nothing had prepared me for the quiet, elegant, confident presence of Mme Suzanne Hugues. The first time I saw her, she was aboard the MS Aurelia, sailing with us IES Abroad students from New York to Le Havre. I was immediately calmed by her smile, even as I was suffering mal de mer. We spent seven days crossing the Atlantic, and upon arrival at port, she expertly led us through the disembarkation process, on through customs, and then off to a lunch of escargots et salade verte, accompanied by the best bread I’d ever had and a pichet of white wine. Unconsciously, I became her student, not of French history or grammar, but of leadership. She sat at her desk at L’Institut with authority, but also with kindness; the door to her office was open. I could only imagine the tasks that she was so smoothly executing every day: interacting with the IES Abroad Board, scheduling staff, negotiating housing for IES Abroad students, providing texts and materials for our study, planning for us to attend classes at the various Facultés (according to our many different majors), ensuring the warmth and comfort of our classrooms, and so much more. What I did know was that I was in the hands of a brilliant CEO.
IES Abroad: In what ways did Mme Hugues instill in you an entrepreneurial spirit?
KKD: As the year progressed, Mme Hugues surprised me by arranging a way for me to earn some pocket money by tutoring a colleague of hers in English once a week. While I certainly enjoyed the tutoring, I did not realize that although M. Bolloré was my first, he was not to be my last, student/client. Did either Mme Hugues or I understand the power of that gesture of hers? Could we have comprehended that she had pointed me toward an unforeseen future as educator and entrepreneur? I don’t know. I easily became the former once I earned my Masters in 16th Century French Literature, but the latter was much more difficult to achieve. Women entrepreneurs were few and far between in 1979.
IES Abroad: What kind of a role model was Mme Hugues as the first female Center Director of an IES Abroad Center?
KKD: Mme Hugues was ahead of her time. When I was a student in Nantes, I did not know that she was the first female IES Abroad Center Director. Her directorship was fortunate for IES Abroad and very splendid for me. Several years after founding my company, I leased space in an office building in downtown Washington, D.C., and the first thing I wanted was to have a desk behind which I would sit and be in charge, just like Mme Hugues. It was then that I realized what a profound influence she had had upon me. She was the role model that took me through thirty years of business leadership from founding, growing, and ultimately selling my company, LLE. My deep regret is that my mentor did not live long enough for me to come back to her with my story and my gratefulness to her for what she gave me that year in Nantes 1966-67.
IES Abroad: In what ways did study abroad give you the confidence and skills to start your own company, Language Learning Enterprises, Inc. (LLE)?
KKD: Going to France to study abroad was not supposed to lead me to business ownership. I wanted to master this beautiful, challenging language called French. I suppose that I hoped to teach; but truthfully, at 20, I did not have a life plan that even included an advanced degree let alone starting a business. And yet, as I look back, I see that there were seeds so obviously planted: I grew comfortable in making decisions (good and bad), I became confident in my ability to think critically, to analyze a situation and design a solution (navigating the crazy Nantes network of bus routes, for example), and I learned that people are what make the world go round (French students are as curious, ambitious and daring as we Americans), and trust is what makes it all work each and every time.
IES Abroad: You grew LLE into a dynamic, multimillion dollar corporation serving a wide range of clients in both the private and public sectors and across the United States and worldwide. Looking back, what were some of your greatest accomplishments?
KKD: Where do I begin? Winning the first Federal contract from the U.S. Department of State and realizing this is for real. Attaining that first million dollar in revenue mark and hearing my beloved father say, “Well, Duchess, I guess you made a good decision majoring in French after all.” Celebrating with my employees as they bought their first homes had their first, second child and appreciating that what I had created supported so many others. Being a pioneer in over-the-telephone interpreting by figuring out that hospitals need immediate access to interpreters and that offering a conference call in real time is a very good thing to do; then hiring IT experts to design a solution in over 100 languages. Receiving the recognition of my peers on the world stage for the Femmes chefs d’entreprises mondiales (FCEM) Lifetime Achievement award. Raising two remarkable sons who are astonishing in their own ways and who chose to create lives of their own while encouraging me to build mine. I am also proud of having summited two 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft. high) in the Rocky Mountains in my fifties.
IES Abroad: You haven't slowed down since you sold LLE in 2009. What are you doing today?
KKD: I am fortunate that my professional life has been devoted to the language services industry; first as a teacher, then as an entrepreneur, and now, as an advocate and consultant. I have just completed a six-year term as a Founding Commissioner of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). Where there was no national certification program for interpreters in the medical field in the U.S. in 2009, now there are two programs and over 3500 certified interpreters across the country. I serve currently on the Board of Directors of the Association of Language Companies (ALC) and on the executive team of ASTM F43 for Language Services and Products. Standards for Translation, Interpreting, Language Instruction, and Testing are all published and available for the general public to use. I advocate tirelessly for language access for all, and I am heartened to see translators and interpreters working in our courts, hospitals, and schools in increasing numbers. Lastly, I am engaged as a consultant by companies who seek my expertise in integrating technology with human resources in order to deliver on-demand language services (translation, interpreting, instruction, testing) to their clients.
IES Abroad: You established The Kathleen Kervin Diamond Endowed Scholarship fund that will provide future IES Abroad students with the opportunity to study foreign languages. Why is it important for students to study foreign languages?
KKD: My parents gave me the gift of bilingualism by their decision to send me to local schools as a child growing up in the Caribbean and South and Central America. I did not study a foreign language until I was presented with French at Codrington School for Girls in Barbados. I found the acquisition of this third language difficult, frustrating, and exasperating, but it was also intriguing to the point where I just wanted to learn more. Perhaps, it was the avenue it opened for me in my brain. By giving me yet another way of thinking, I had more intellectual resources at my disposal. I recognized and liked this, even as a twelve year old girl. Consequently, I pursued French as a major while enjoying my ability to speak Spanish “like a native,” in addition to English, of course. My life has been enriched by my multilingual ability, and I want to give the opportunity of foreign language study to students today so that they may experience the wonder and satisfaction of communicating in a language other than the one they speak at home.
IES Abroad: Having recently returned to Nantes for the 50th anniversary celebration, in what ways has the city of Nantes changed, and in what ways has it remained the same?
KKD: I like to say, “France never disappoints,” because as I have come and gone to France over the past several decades, I am always satisfied in body and soul by my experience. I left Nantes in the summer of 1967 and returned briefly in 1971 to find so much loss; both Mme Hugues and Mme Laporte (my French mère) were deceased. So, I was not sure what to expect in 2015. To my delight, the city greeted me with modernity and revitalized splendor, while still maintaining its secret corners where a young, American girl could still discover art, architecture, and crêperies.