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John Harkness

Name John Harkness

Graduation year 2016

Major History

Minor German


What's your current job?

I am currently serving for a year in the AmeriCorps VISTA (volunteers in service to America) program with the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program. My title is public benefits analyst, and I collect and analyze data about how Refugees use public benefits in order to strengthen the capacity of the Refugee Resettlement Program, other state departments, and the resettlement agencies to share information with each other about how Refugees are using programs such as cash and medical assistance and employment services. 

How does language and culture help you succeed in your career?

Studying language and culture, along with my major in history (shoutout to SHPRS), helped me develop a greater capacity for empathy. By studying others’ experiences, I am able to see new perspectives. In my current position, this helps me interpret the data I collect by recognizing that these refugees come from very different cultures and some very horrific situations, and therefore I can try to identify with their challenges. 

In terms of a career, I want to go into international affairs, where starting with at least one foreign language is crucial. 

Did you study abroad? If so, can you speak about your experience?

I spent 7 months in Germany in 2015, first as an intern with the US State Department in Frankfurt and then I did a study abroad semester in Munich. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I met and became friends with people of all different backgrounds and experiences. As an intern one of my duties was to give presentations to German high school English classes about American politics and culture, and it was really special being able to talk to the kids about their perceptions and experiences of America while sharing my own point of view. In Munich, I was the only American exchange student at my university, so I became friends with students from all over the world, from India and Pakistan, to Italy and Finland, to Canada and Brazil. Studying abroad was always a goal of mine, and being able to live in a different culture was amazing. 

How did ASU and the language program at SILC prepare you for your future?

As I said before, I want to go into international affairs, where language skills are very important. But also, while in college, I was able to do the majority of the research for my honors thesis in German. I think that showcased a skill of mine that will (hopefully) be valuable when applying to graduate school and jobs. 

What was your favorite thing about learning a language?

My favorite thing was when I was in Germany, I was able to (mostly) communicate. Getting through a conversation, or even asking a question at the store was really satisfying. It wasn’t a conclusion to learning German, of course, but it just showed how much progress I had made on this skill.