February’s spotlight Ian Duncan is best known at the CSLC as an accomplished student of German and a skilled peer tutor. However, unbeknownst to many, he is also an amateur cellist, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, a licensed ham radio operator, and a certified scuba diver. Hailing from the small town of Bedford, Indiana and nominated by Professor Denise Della Rossa, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the German Program, Duncan has acquired an impressive array of professional experience that is unusual to possess at the undergraduate level. His success is undoubtedly due to his willingness to take risks, untiring ambition, and gregarious and upbeat nature.
Foreign Language Experience
Duncan says that beginning in elementary school, he had “an inexplicable desire to learn all things German: language, culture, history.” He notes that this interest coincides with his becoming aware of his family’s Austrian heritage and his study of Germany in school. He remembers soliciting help from the school’s librarian to find a book of German phrases that he then began to teach himself. Unfortunately, he would have to wait until coming to Notre Dame to formally study German: “...I had to take three years of Spanish instead,” he laments.
At Notre Dame, Duncan began with intensive first-year German with Professor Hannelore Weber. He still considers this his favorite class, both for Weber’s dynamic teaching approach and the realization of learning the language he had been eager to study for a long time. “Nothing beats the feeling you get when you start a new language,” he reflects. But this course alone was not enough to satiate his interest. He supplemented his coursework by watching German language television and reading in German to expand his vocabulary during virtually every free moment.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Duncan traveled to Germany for an intensive language study, supported by the CSLC’s Summer Language Abroad (SLA) Grant. He spent two months at the DID Deutsch Institut, followed by a month in Kiel with the family of his best friend, Jascha, who had been an exchange student at Duncan’s high school. This final stage of the trip was the most meaningful because it provided him insight into daily German family life. Not only was Duncan able to apply his newly acquired language skills in a natural setting, he was able to help the family tend their horses and stables.
Duncan’s love for German was strong enough for him to return for a year and a half during his junior year. While enrolled in his study abroad program, Duncan also took classes in Czech, and began studying Polish on his own after visiting the family of a Polish friend he made in Berlin.
On forging friendships via a foreign language, Duncan provides this insight: “My favorite part of learning a language at ND has to be the people I have gotten to know. No matter what social or academic status someone belongs to outside of a language class, their true colors show when they are first developing their identity in a language. This helps foster quality friendships that last.” Of his success in mastering German, he adds: “My advice to anyone learning a language would be to find the language that piques your interest the most. If you try to learn a language because your friends are doing it or it’s popular, but you truly don’t have a PASSION for the language, you will never learn it.”
Despite the initial reticence of others regarding his study of the German language, Duncan has steadily used his German skills to build up his professional pedigree. With the help of a grant from the Nanovic institute, Duncan secured an internship at a multinational corporation in Hamburg the summer after his sophomore year. He worked in Marketing and Finance, where he was responsible for updating databases and preparing cost-benefit analysis reports for many of the corporation’s strategic initiatives. His colleagues were mostly Europeans, and business was conducted in both German and English; he was required to present reports in both languages.
Duncan describes his internship experience as very daunting at first, but he was able to succeed with the help of his colleagues. He offers the following advice for anyone dealing with the challenge of using a second language professionally: “Be open to criticism and seek help from your peers.” To his surprise, he found reciprocity with his German colleagues, as his English expertise was a great resource to them.
At the end of his internship, Duncan headed to Berlin to spend the academic year at the Freie Universität. Taking a full course load in a foreign language still wasn’t enough to fill the schedule of this go-getter. Shortly after his arrival, an alum of the program contacted the study abroad office with an opportunity at Samson & Fritaud, a translation company for the film industry. Duncan eagerly replied to the posting; no one else in his program felt comfortable enough to take on such a responsibility.
Duncan describes his work at Samson & Fritaud as demanding but extremely rewarding. Collaborating on major films, he was intellectually and linguistically challenged as he completed both German to English and English to German translations. “I remember (sometimes) working through the night,” he says. He was, however, able to keep this position through the academic year and into the following summer, gaining valuable linguistic and professional experience as well as inside knowledge of the German film industry.
Continuing with this upward trend, Duncan is currently training as district manager for the German grocer ALDI, while completing a demanding final semester at Notre Dame.
Reflecting on his on his overall experience with the German language and culture, Duncan reflects: “I think the most impactful moment I have had...is when I realized that most of my friends are German...My best friend is German and yet when (I talk) to him, I often times totally forget that he is from a different culture. Many times I have caught myself saying things to him that only American students (my) age would understand, forgetting that he doesn’t have that background.”
Duncan recognizes that his mentors at Notre Dame have been critical to his success. Two professors in the German Department stand out to him in particular. Of Professor Weber, mentioned above, he says: “Her commitment to her students is unbelievable...During my early phase a German speaker, she was the one who really gave me the courage and motivation to stick it out.” She encouraged him to apply, successfully, for the SLA grant his freshman year. Additionally, Professor Denise Della Rossa, his advisor, “was the one who talked me into just focusing on German at Notre dame and not (to) worry about about a second major.” She has challenged him to take risks and to pursue academic and professional endeavors that he acknowledges he never would have considered on his own.
While at Notre Dame, Duncan has been an active member of the German club, holding the positions of President and Treasurer. He organized this past December’s excursion to the Chicago Christkindlmarkt and is a liaison for an event featuring the German Chamber of Commerce here on campus this spring. He is also working on a “top-secret” German club event for next year, about which he artfully deflects any questions.
Duncan has also found ways to give back to the community. He assists international students with their English or German on a volunteer basis. Additionally, he has volunteered to distribute recycling bags during home football games for the Office of Sustainability. During his time in Hamburg, Duncan volunteered at a Senior Citizens’ home and gave free English lessons to locals.
After graduation in May, Duncan hopes to work for a German company, either in the United States or abroad, with the opportunity to travel. Wherever in the world his aspirations take him, he is sure to surmount expectations.