Kevin Cole was in a Japanese language class in middle school when something clicked. His teacher remarked that Cole was picking up the language quickly. It gave Cole a boost and motivated him to get serious about studying languages. This decision would send Cole on a linguistic journey from his hometown of Carmel, Indiana, to Germany, Chicago and eventually Turkey.
Cole is a 2014-15 graduate of DePaul University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences with bachelor’s degrees in German and Spanish. After graduation, Cole will embark on a master’s degree abroad as a Fulbright scholar.
Fearless, immerses into foreign languages
Twice, Cole has decided to move to a foreign country he’d never seen before.
The first time was after high school. He moved to Grötzingen, Germany, and lived with a host family for a “gap year” of study before coming to DePaul.
Cole loved being immersed in a tight-knit cultural and linguistic community, even picking up the local Swabian dialect.
“Learning a foreign language also means learning cultural context. When I would read new literature or understand a new joke or allusion, it made me more capable of understanding the world around me,” Cole said.
When Cole first set foot on DePaul’s campus, he was a young teenager visiting to take a proficiency test in Japanese. By the time he enrolled at DePaul, he had also studied Spanish, German and Mandarin Chinese. Foreign literature quickly became one of Cole’s interests, delving into the nuance and meaning of works by great authors.
As Cole continued his studies, he also became interested in the sociological aspects of language study. He minored in Latin American and Latino Studies, examining issues of immigration and cultures that span borders. He applied for a Fulbright scholarship for a master’s program in German Turkish Studies, a field that has much in common with Latino Studies. He was awarded the Fulbright, and after graduation Cole will study in Ankara, Turkey, for one year then move to Berlin to finish the program.
Traveling to learn (and to eat)
Turks are the largest immigrant population in Germany, explained Cole. He will study why Turks were drawn to Germany and how those who returned to Turkey brought German culture back with them. Cole is learning basic Turkish in preparation, and he’s also excited about the cultural fusion of food.
“In terms of German food, there is one dish that requires no introduction for anyone who has visited the country before: Döner,” said Cole.
This German twist on the Turkish kebab is a fond memory from Cole’s first study abroad experience. He’s looking forward to getting back to the street food dish: shaved meat tucked into a pita with veggies and yogurt sauce.
“I think about Döner at least two-to-three times per month,” said Cole.
DePaul helps connect history and service
In addition to opening up the wonders of travel, language has helped Cole engage with history and community service.
The German Department at DePaul connected him to an international art project translating letters by German soldiers from World War I — messages to other soldiers, wives and their children.
“It was nice to be working with something that was in between literary and real world experience,” said Cole. “A letter is something that’s not meant to be literature, necessarily, but it’s also not the same as translating someone’s product manual.”
With other DePaul students, Cole volunteered as a tutor at Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago. He tutored adults who wanted to improve their English to get better jobs or to simply communicate with their English-speaking grandchildren. While he enjoyed practicing Spanish, Cole said “it wasn’t really about Spanish at all.”
“It was about reaching out to people and helping them grasp an opportunity to improve their life situation,” said Cole. “It was really rewarding.”
Looking back, Cole said his family has been extremely supportive of his studies, beginning with the early days when he started learning Japanese.
Ultimately, Cole would like to go on to a Ph.D. program and teach German. He realizes, however, that his multilingual chops could come in handy for other things too.
His other dream job? Being the host of a globe-trotting food show on TV. “I feel like that would be rewarding and delicious.”
One in a series of stories about graduates from the Class of 2015
Kristin Claes Mathews