Alumni Profile: Karen Kelly C'12

Karen Kelly, Global Studies alumnus

Languages have long been a passion for Karen Kelly, 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 and, following her graduation in 2012, moved to Andorra as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant.

Andorra is a small country located between France and Spain; while on assignment there, she taught English to middle school students, met with members of the Andorran parliament and government regularly to practice their English conversation skills, and took classes in the Catalan language.

“Learning Catalan was a way to break into the culture,” 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.”

Following her Fulbright year, Karen found an opportunity that would allow her to continue her love of languages, culture, and international travel. She works for the Institute for International Education as an NYU-Abu Dhabi Outreach Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, and travels to more than a dozen countries each year to meet students and identify those who might be a good fit for the university's programs and opportunities. She also travels to Abu Dhabi, the capital city of United Arab Emirates on the coast of the Persian Gulf, to visit the campus.

Karen's position as an outreach officer takes her to high schools all over Latin America and the Caribbean, where she gets to interact with students, families, and communities. She appreciates the unique perspective on cultures, countries, and people she gains through these interactions. She counts Trinidad as one of the most unique places she's visited, where she experienced a strong mix of cultures and religions existing very peacefully side-by-side, despite wide differences. Karen also loves helping students find the right fit with the unique opportunities offered by NYU-Abu Dhabi and seeing where their studies will take them.

She looks back on her own North Park experience as a solid foundation for both her Fulbright year and her career. Along with her study abroad experience as a student, Karen 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.

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.”

Graduating from the global studies major, Karen went on to become a Fulbright scholar and start a career that takes her to over a dozen countries every year.