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Alumni Profile: Karen Kelly C'12

Karen Kelly, Global Studies alumnus
A typical day in Karen Kelly’s life might involve speaking up to four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Catalan—the official language of Andorra, where she teaches on a Fulbright scholarship. Karen, who double majored in global studies and French, graduated in 2012 and moved to the small country located between France and Spain to teach English to middle school students. She also meets with members of the Andorran parliament and government a few times a week so they can practice English conversation skills, although Karen, who takes Catalan classes, also has the opportunity to try out her newest language.

“Learning Catalan is a way to break into the culture here,” she said. “The language is not disappearing but it is not spoken much outside Andorra. When Andorrans hear an American taking time to learn it, they’re impressed and appreciative.”

Languages have long been a passion for Karen, who grew up in Mexico City as the daughter of two Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries. She was already fluent in Spanish and English and knew some French when she started at North Park. Wanting to continue with her French, she decided to double major in the language along with global studies, which requires students to at least minor in a language, specialize in two areas of the world, and study abroad. Karen selected Francophone and Middle Eastern studies, and also took several Arabic classes. She studied abroad in France, an experience that prepared her for moving to another European country.

Her study abroad experience was not the only way North Park prepared her for her Fulbright. While in school, she held an internship at the Chicago Cultural Alliance, an organization that works with different cultures in Chicago and encourages dialogue between them. “I got to meet leaders of different museums, cultural communities, and agencies working to preserve the richness of cultures within Chicago,” she said.

Several volunteer opportunities provided her with teaching experience that also helped her Fulbright application. At Casa Central, a social service agency that serves Chicago’s Latino community, she worked as an assistant in a kindergarten class. As a volunteer with Friends of Refugees, she tutored the children of a local Somalian family. Karen also worked as a peer academic advisor at North Park, which allowed her to plan a class and teach older students.

Karen also credits her professors for their support. Spanish and global studies professor Linda Parkyn, herself a former Fulbright Scholar, encouraged Karen from early on to apply for the prestigious program, which is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for individuals to study, research, and teach abroad.

Since the global studies program is interdisciplinary and students customize the major by selecting classes from other academic areas, Karen also found faculty from other departments, including Lida Nedilsky (sociology), Mary Adams Trujillo (communication and conflict transformation studies), Jennifer Morrissey (French), and Anis Said (Arabic), to be especially helpful throughout this process.

“Even though these are professors from different areas, they are still very open to helping global studies majors as you choose your classes,” she said. “It’s a build-your-own major, and I had many people helping me along the way.”