On Tuesday, April 2, 2024, Global Languages hosted a webinar panel discussion with three current undergraduates and a recent alumna as part of the CPW Virtual Parent Programming series of events.


Dagmar Jaeger, Senior Lecturer in German, led the conversation posing questions to each of the panelists on their experiences of learning languages at MIT and how the skills and knowledge obtained in the classroom has been having an impact on their lives within and beyond the halls of MIT.

The panelists were Eva Goldie, Class of 2024, Major Mathematics, Concentration in Korean; Arina Khotimsky, Class of 2023, Major Materials Science, Minor French; Zixuan Liu, Class of 2025, Major Biological Engineering, Concentration in Chinese; and Vaneeza Rupani, Class of 2025, Major Aeronautics/Astronautics, Concentration in Portuguese.

When asked what inspired the students to choose to study a language at MIT, the responses were a mix of predetermined plans and impromptu decisions. Zixuan “Zi” Liu was eager to reconnect with her native language of Mandarin. For this reason, she started with the “streamlined” track designed for Chinese heritage learners, like herself.  Now a junior looking back, Zi says of taking Chinese here: “it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

Eva Goldie grew up in Switzerland speaking French, German, and English. Learning a new language at MIT wasn’t something she was considering until she was prompted to take Korean together with a friend. A big fan of K-Pop, Eva explained that once she started, she was motivated to stay with the program through the sequence, and complete her HASS concentration in this area.

The panelists all remarked on the highly conducive atmosphere created by the small class sizes and supportive instructors. Vaneeza Rupani is doing her HASS concentration in Portuguese. She said “Everyone is always supported and enthusiastically wanting to help you find your way and get through. So I found that really helpful and really enjoyable.” Eva echoed these sentiments: “One of the things that was very apparent to me from the start was just how much our lecturers cared about us individually.” Arina Khotimsky also described her French classes as having a “much more welcoming and friendly community than a 100-to-200-person lecture hall.”

Likewise, the panelists were keen to share some accounts of using their skills in the “real world”.  For example, Arina moved to Paris upon completing her degree last spring to pursue a master’s in international energy at Science Po’s School of International Affairs. Having minored in French at MIT, Arina is using her language skills on a daily basis and remarked on the advantages that speaking French are already affording her. She explained, “It’s really been something else having been studying here, knowing the language, and I’ve had a much richer experience than I would have if I didn’t speak the language.”

Likewise, Vaneeza was recently asked in an interview for an internship at NASA if she had any language or international experience. She was proudly able to mention her study of Portuguese and recent participation in the Global Classrooms program in Brazil last January.

Zi, who is currently working in a lab through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), has been using her Mandarin skills not only in her personal life, but in “scientific and technical talks with other people,” namely her Chinese lab mates who move fluidly in between English and Mandarin when discussing research projects.

Lastly, panelists were able to offer some sage advice to the incoming class of 2028. Vaneeza and Eva both urged students who were considering taking languages to “just go for it.” Arina’s advice was more strategic. She encouraged students to think about their future careers and where in the world they may lead. Of her own experience, she said, “…being able to now apply to work opportunities in France and do interviews in French, has really opened up so many doors. So, especially if you know a certain country has opportunities that you’re excited about, I would definitely look into studying that language.” Eva seemed to have anticipated this advice in her choice of learning Korean, which led to her doing a MISTI internship in South Korea between her second and third years. After spending the summer at a video game company working on natural language processing, she said, “this has actually turned into what will likely be my long-term career and research path.”

Ample time was allowed for a robust Q&A from the over 155 attendees comprised mostly of prospective students and their family members. After all the eloquent and informative testimonials from panelists, the new cohort of students will be motivated to come to MIT and explore all it has to offer in language and cultural learning and experiences.