Finding Love and Founding a Business - January Alumni of the Month

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Jill Kruidenier
January 9, 2014

Three perfect strangers met in 2003 when they each chose to study on the IES Abroad Berlin program. Along with improved German language skills and intercultural competence came a friendship, a marriage, and most recently, a business partnership!

IES Abroad Berlin '03-04 alumni, Jenny Charlton-Jones and Casey Charlton (now married), along with fellow alum, Lee Konstanty, launched River Linguistics, a global consulting firm specializing in translation and localization services, among other services. Learn more in their interview below.

IES Abroad: Which U.S. University did you attend and what was your major?

Casey: McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin (BA in International Business)

Jenny: Cornell University (BA in Linguistics)

Lee: George Washington University (BA in International Affairs) and University of Pittsburgh (MA in International Development)

IES Abroad: What led you to choose the IES Abroad Berlin program?

Jenny: I had attended a one-month summer university program in Berlin after my sophomore year and knew without a doubt that I had to come back and spend more time there. I liked the amount of choice afforded to the students at IES Abroadthe ability to establish our own courses of study, the option to take classes both at IES Abroad and Humboldt University, the option to be assigned a host family or to arrange your own lodgingand its location within the city couldn’t be better for exploring the many historical, cultural, and social activities Berlin has to offer.

Casey: To be honest, I chose to major in international business based on my desire to return abroad to Germany, where I had already spent a year during high school. Studying abroad was a requirement to graduate and IES Abroad offered a solid program in a city and region that I really wanted to experience: Berlin. Ever since a week-long stay in the city when I was 17, I knew I had to return. Everyone I met at IES Abroad was supportive, full of life and love of adventure, and genuinely interested in helping students explore and learn. Credits for courses that were offered through IES Abroad were even transferable to my home university.

Lee: I knew all along that I was interested in returning to Germany, not only having lived there for a year in High School, but also to work on my German Degree with some fascinating course offerings. After all, why read about it, when you can just go take a look for yourself. The program exceeded all of my expectations, from my interview at GW with the program director onward, it was a highly personalized and enjoyable academic experience.

IES Abroad: What is your favorite memory of studying in Berlin?

Jenny: It’s not really a specific event, but rather an impression that I got while studying there. Berlin has a prominent place in 20th century history and it’s easy to form an impression of it based just on what the history books say happened there (a city that was divided, one side oppressed and the other prosperous, but has been reunited and everyone’s living happily ever after…). But to actually go there, and to see the living city as it deals with its past is a revelation that history doesn’t stay in the past and it’s never as simple as the history books tell it. As a Native American this is something that I’ve encountered at home as well (when people hear “Indian” they think buffalo and tipis and moccasins, and always in the past-tense, but often overlook the people and the culture as they continue today). I found it absolutely fascinating to see how a different place and different people deal with a similar conflict of trying to honor the past while moving into the inevitable future. And Berlin has reminders on nearly every corner of how painful and significant this conflict is in the city’s present.

Casey: Socially, culturally, linguistically and personally it was a year of pure exploration, adventure and discovery. I grew up in rural Texas, and being immersed in a diverse and sizeable city as Berlin was something completely new to me. Since I spoke fluent German prior to my arrival, I found myself able to fully focus on my studies and on submerging myself into another culture. My favorite memories continue today, probably in no small part to the fact that I met my wife and best friend during that time!

Lee: I vividly remember exploring the city with the IES Abroad professors. It was amazing to see the city come alive through their explanations. I will never forget learning how to interpret the facades of buildings. Within a few weeks and with a little research I could walk around Berlin and see a history often overlooked.

IES Abroad: How did studying in Berlin influence you, professionally and personally?

Jenny: My desire to explore other countries and cultures was founded early on (I grew up in the Air Force and spent three years in Germany as a kid), and getting to immerse myself in a city as international and culturally rich as Berlin nurtured that desire. It really made concrete my belief that getting to know other cultures and languages is a wholly enriching experienceand fundamentally important in our increasingly connected world. On a personal level it has taught me to view the world more broadly, with a more open mind. Professionally my experience in Berlin has driven me to want to facilitate the connectedness of different cultures and to remove the barriers that often hinder cross-cultural communication. With River Linguistics I’m finally able to do just that.

Casey: Living and studying in Berlin offered me many new perspectives, as well as solidified my love of language and global connectivity. For the last 10 years, I have been working in the translation industry, and have had the opportunity to interact with people all over the world. River Linguistics wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for IES Abroad Berlin, so I guess you could say my time in Berlin has strongly influenced my personal and professional life.

Lee: My experience solidified my desire to live, work and learn abroad. I gained the confidence to really push my language abilities, and would go on to work in places including Suriname, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Tanzania, picking up as many languages as possible along the way.

IES Abroad: Tell us about your consulting firm, River Linguistics. How did you get started, and what are your roles and mission?

Jenny: River Linguistics wasn’t exactly born on a napkin, but there was certainly food and drink involved in several conversations the three of us had after Lee moved to Spokane, where Casey and I have lived for several years. We all had a desire to be masters of our own destinies and found that our collective skills, garnered largely through work and study abroad and with international networks, were perfectly suited to starting our own venture in global consulting and translation. Our previous experience in the industry showed us how much room for improvement there is in the typical client experience, as well as the typical employee experience.

The primary goal in starting the company was to build a career that will allow us to pursue the lifestyle we desireone that is globally oriented, and will allow us to pursue hobbies and travel alongside our work, rather than around it. Of course, for this to be possible the business must be successful. Success will come from offering a simpler, friendlier, more streamlined customer experience, that is supported by our years of knowledge and experience in the industry and abroad.

Our official titles are President (me), Chief Executive Officer (Casey), and Chief Operations Officer (Lee). In practice this means that Casey and Lee are the drivers of business and production, and I oversee the daily operations to make sure we stay on a positive course.

IES Abroad: What do you love about your job?

Jenny: I love that I can still devote most of my time to being a mom (our sons are 4 and almost 2 years old, so require quite a bit of energy), but that I have a purpose that is not mom-related as well (stay-at-home moms know what I mean!), and that I have the flexibility to find my own balance between the two. I’m also really excited to get back into something that uses my skills in language and linguistics and keeps me in touch with the greater world.

Casey: Waking up every day know that I’m living the life I want to be living and working on things that matter to me. Our work is unpredictable at times, but I love a challenge - especially when I’m working with a team of great people.

Lee: I really enjoy that I have the opportunity to work with clients from all over the globe on a range of project. From podcasts to technical manuals, every day is different. In addition, I really enjoy researching all of the different industries and global markets that can give our clients an edge as they take their message, services and products global. Furthermore, Jenny makes some pretty amazing pastries for our meetings.

IES Abroad: Who is your typical or ideal client?

Casey:  For the private sector, our ideal clients are companies in the tech (eLearning, mHealth, eBook publishing, mobile app) and legal industries, to whom we typically provide a mix of globalization and marketing consulting, translation, telephonic interpreting, video production & multilingual voiceover and English copy editing services.

Our services can be especially beneficial for companies looking to make their first move into a foreign market, for whom we can help build the ideal infrastructure from the ground up. For the public sector, our ideal clients are state and federal agencies, to whom we typically provide translation services in over 80 languages and telephonic interpreting support in over 200 languages.

IES Abroad: What skills did you build while studying abroad that have impacted how you run your business?

Lee: The ability to politely and respectfully interact with a multicultural client base is paramount to our success. Without some of the eye-opening experiences, and occasional mistakes, I am not sure I would be nearly as adept at working with people from all over the world.

IES Abroad: What skills or services do you help clients build in their own companies?

Lee: At the heart of what we do is to teach clients how to take their message global. There are plenty of companies willing to translate content, however, we view the eventual translation as the final step in a much longer process. From the start we teach clients about international markets in which their products may thrive, technologies that can make the process more efficient and how to avoid embarrassing mistakes when it comes time to go global.

IES Abroad: Why is it important for businesses to become internationalized or globalized?

Casey: Global marketplaces are more competitive than ever due to widespread internet and mobile connectivity. As a business, you don’t want to place all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. We believe that business should strive to diversify their revenue streams in order to help weather or remain unaffected by instances of regional economic or political instability, as well as changes in consumer behavior.

IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of studying abroad?

Casey: Just do it. It’s ok to be afraid or anxious of the unknown. Just know that your life will be forever changed, in ways that you cannot predict. Ask anyone who has studied abroadI’d be willing to bet that 99% of them will say that their study abroad experience was the most formative experience of their lives.

IES Abroad: What advice would you give other IES Abroad alumni who are just beginning their careers?

Lee: One of my favorite economists once said, “If you want to work really really really hard, the universe will give you every opportunity.” That said, make sure you are working really really really hard for something you enjoy; for yourself.

Jenny: Approach every experience as a learning opportunityeven negative experiences can ultimately be very enriching. Your first foray into the professional world will likely not be what you ultimately want to do, but use it to figure out what direction you want to go in next.

Casey: Don’t be afraid of failing and be true to yourself. Work at something that satisfies more than mere monetary stability. You won’t fail… Unless you don’t try.

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Jill Kruidenier

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