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Best Critical Language to learn during Graduate School?

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Hi everyone,

I'm headed to the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin this fall after accepting a full-ride scholarship offer. I applied to their MGPS program because I'm interested in working for national security. A huge reason why I wanted to go back to school was to take advantage of the multiple critical language scholarships available only to students, such as Boren, CLS, FLAS, etc. Based on my personal interests, I've narrowed down my language learning selection to two languages: Russian and Persian.

My questions/concerns are:

1. Is it feasible to learn a new language during graduate school? Especially a mission-critical language? For my first two semesters, my course load will be relatively normal at 9 hours each semester. Also, for what it's worth, I'm currently trilingual (English, Spanish, and French).

2. In terms of my career, which language -- Russian or Persian -- would offer the highest prospects of aiding me start a career in national security once I graduate in approximately three years? UT offers intensive courses for each of these languages, which means I can cover two years of coursework in one year. I also intend to apply to Boren, CLS, and UT's FLAS programs, which expedite language fluency through intensive language and cultural exposure. My study abroad choices are in Odessa, Ukraine for Russian or Dushanbe, Tajikistan for Persian. I've also considered learning Arabic or Hindi/Urdu, as UT hosts Flagship programs for both Arabic and Hindi/Urdu.

3. Alternatively, should I instead just focus my time on learning more technical skills? For example, a GIS certificate or a certificate in data science?

National security is my passion. I want to be a suitable, worthy candidate. Any advice is appreciated! Especially in terms of which critical language I should learn, since it's a life-long commitment.

Thank you!

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At what level are you expecting to learn those languages? Do you have any background in either? I ask because both could prove difficult to learn, especially to proficiency in a 2 year program. Given that, you may be better served learning other skills that will be an asset and instead spending a summer/year doing intensive language training.

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Hi @rising_star, I haven't had the opportunity to dwell in either Russian or Persian in an academic setting yet. I used to work for a refugee resettlement agency up until very recently. I've had a lot of exposure to Persian through my Iranian and Afghan clients. My exposure to Russian, on the other hand, is limited to speaking with my native Russian speaking friends, and listening to a ton of Russian pop music, which I love. Once, I also had a refugee client from Ukraine that spoke Russian. I've heard the local migrant shelter my old work is connected to also now has several Russian-speaking, Ukrainian nationals seeking asylum. I believe returning to volunteer for these orgs would be a great opportunity to keep involved with my old work and community, as well as serve as a chance to practice either language.

I would like to reach a professional working proficiency (Level 3) in either language by the time I graduate. The full-scholarship I received allows me to take a year off in between the program. Ideally, I would love to spend a year abroad in either Odessa, Ukraine or Dushanbe, Tajikistan focusing on learning either Russian or Persian. I'm hoping I get this opportunity through the Boren Fellowship or my university's FLAS programs.

Truthfully, I've had a lot more exposure to Arabic through my many Arabic speaking clients and coworkers. But I see Arabic as being a lot more challenging to learn than Russian or Persian, as Russian and Persian are both Indo-European languages, and I already speak three other languages from this branch. 

Which language between the two would you consider to have more prospects in the future for a career with the government? What other skills would they like to see?

Thanks for your response!

Edited by LBJArcher
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17 minutes ago, LBJArcher said:

Which language between the two would you consider to have more prospects in the future for a career with the government? What other skills would they like to see?

I think this is difficult for anyone to predict, tbh. In terms of other skills, a mix of quantitative (statistics, machine learning, programming) and qualitative (psychological and cultural understandings) skills are always good to have. Depending on your more specific interests, GIS, remote sensing, and other spatial analysis tools could also be of interest or value. IMO, it makes more sense to focus in on what it is you like and could see yourself doing, rather than solely trying to figure out what employers might be seeking 3-5 years down the road. (For example, Russia and Russian studies waned in the early to mid 2000s but are likely increasing in popularity again. Who can really know what might be next?) It could also be the case that you take a couple of GIS courses and realize that though it's something an employer may want, it's not something you actually want to spend 40 hours a week doing. 

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