If there's one thing we love hearing from IES Abroad alumni, it's that their study abroad experience helped them become more confident leaders. A year studying in France, combined with other academic and life experiences, inspired IES Abroad alumna, Kathleen Kervin Diamond (Nantes '66-67), to begin a very successful language learning company.
Now retired and involved in advocacy and the promotion of professionalism of language specialists, Kathleen shares with us her decision to study abroad and her impressive career path that followed.
IES Abroad: What led you to Nantes for your study abroad experience?
Kathleen Diamond: As a student at the University of Florida in 1965 I was introduced to IES Abroad by my Department Chair who suggested I might benefit by studying in France. I thought it sounded like a great idea. I chose Nantes over Paris for the simple reason that I didn’t want to get lost in a big city. In retrospect, I think I made an excellent decision for myself as I loved living and studying in a French town I had never heard of!
IES Abroad: When you first arrived in France, did you have any career goals in mind?
KD: Oh hardly! When I first arrived I just hoped I would be able to complete my Junior Year. I had limited French proficiency, limited cultural knowledge and sensed right away that I had a lot of learning to do, academically and personally.
IES Abroad: How did studying abroad influence you in your career path?
KD: I am not sure that I recognized it at the time, but my study abroad definitely shaped me as a future leader. That year in Nantes, I gained confidence in myself, in my intelligence, and in my ability to make good decisions.
IES Abroad: What was it about Nantes that inspired you to want to work with language learning?
KD: There is not one thing that inspired me, it was a series of impressions and experiences I felt, and observations that I made, (most unconscious) at the time. For example, I remember being very impressed by our IES Director. She was kind and elegant, smart and organized and she sat behind a big desk and she radiated authority. She was a role model for me when I founded my own company and sat behind a big desk. I remembered how important she seemed to me, and that I might now seem to others. I kept my office door open, as she did, in a welcoming way.
IES Abroad: Tell us a little bit about starting your own language company, and the development of the business.
KD: It’s a long story, but after leaving Nantes, I returned to Gainesville, FL and earned my BA followed by a MA in 16th Century French Literature. I joined the faculty as an Instructor and prepared for a career in teaching. I married, began a family, and moved to the Washington, DC area where I discovered commercial language training for adults in the US Military and Foreign Service. There was a niche for someone like me to leave the classroom and create an organization that would recruit, hire and train good foreign language instructors to teach adult learners how to speak, read, listen, and write natural, idiomatic language, just like I had learned in Nantes. I took a leap of faith and I founded Language Learning Enterprises (LLE) with a mission of “excellence in foreign languages”. I led the company’s growth to multimillion dollars in revenue, fifty-three employees and over eight hundred independent contractors, serving clients across the US and in the UK. We provided instruction, testing, interpreting and translation in a wide range of languages from Arabic to Zulu.
IES Abroad: What would you consider to be one of the highlights of your career?
KD: Receiving recognition from my peers in 1999 when I was awarded the Femmes Chefs d’Entreprises Mondiales (FCEM) Lifetime Achievement Award in Brussels, Belgium.
Have you been back to Nantes? How has the city changed?
KD: I returned in 1971, but my host mother was deceased, and Madame Hughes, the IES Director who influenced me, had just passed away, so it was a bittersweet visit. I would like to return when IES celebrates the 50th anniversary of IES Nantes in 2015. Nonetheless, I have returned to France over and over again, maintaining my love of the language and its people by building friendships of a lifetime. The picture I have included was taken in the Vercors while hiking with French friends in the foothills of the Alps.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of studying abroad?
KD: Pack your bags and go! I love the range of countries where IES Abroad has programs today. I believe that students today must think of themselves as global citizens. They must learn how to weave language proficiency with professional skill: entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, artists, teachers, musicians and even computer programmers, should all be bilingual, at the very least. I support study abroad and have endowed an IES Scholarship, because I believe that it encourages global networks, strengthens self-confidence, and allows participation in the power of people across planet Earth. So, go, and be open to the experience of living, eating, sleeping, and learning abroad.
IES Abroad: What are your upcoming travel, career, or life plans?
KD: I remain passionate about travel and want to visit countries unknown to me so that I can step out of my comfort zone and feel like an IES student abroad again. This fall I will make my first trip to Istanbul, followed by a tour of Eastern Turkey along the Black Sea, inland to Kars along the Armenian border, on to Mt Nemrut and over to Cappadocia. I am retired from owning and running a language business, but I am engaged in advocacy and the promotion of professionalism of language specialists. Specifically, I am a Commissioner on the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the Membership Secretary of ASTM F43 Language Services and Products Standards. My personal life is brightened by two brilliant grand girls!
Thank you, Kathleen, for supporting IES Abroad scholarships and allowing future students to experience the growth and opportunities afforded by study abroad. We are proud to call you an alum!