Student Spotlight: Will Sumpter

Sometimes video games actually deserve the blame. I was partially inspired to study Russian due to the influence of Grand Theft Auto IV which – in between running from the cops and gunning down mafia – featured a rather great Russian radio station that introduced me to the classics of Russian ‘80s to 2000s music. The Bachelor of Arts degree requirements influenced my decision as well: the minimum requirement for a ‘complex’ language was two semesters, while Romance languages required three. After an unsuccessful ‘experimentation phase’ with middle school French and Spanish, I made a choice for brevity to minimize my own pain as well as the damage to my GPA. 

His time at MU

What I had originally considered a two semester commitment became a degree major, thanks to the passion demonstrated daily by a department that was dedicated to nurturing a small but committed group of students. The Russian department at Mizzou felt like the campus’s best kept secret, providing an atmosphere of close collaboration with professors and fellow students that more closely resembled a small private university. I studied abroad in Russia in 2011 to 2012 as part of my undergraduate degree and returned in 2013 to pursue my master’s. My time at Mizzou’s Russian program prepared me well for residing, studying and traveling there – both linguistically and culturally. 

After MU

At the end of my studies, I had the opportunity to join a medical diagnostics company in a commercial role covering the former Soviet region. As the link between American management and our Russian distribution partners, my studies had a direct impact on my success. The cross-cultural skills gained from engaging directly with a foreign culture had a profound effect on my career, leading to larger responsibilities outside of the ex-Soviet region into the Middle East and Africa. All of these opportunities would have ended in failure without having developed the skillset to understand a nuanced situation outside of my own cultural context. 

The positive personal and professional impact of studying a foreign language and culture cannot be overstated. It goes beyond a line-item on a resume or a degree qualification; the experience can provide an external perspective in which to better understand yourself. While I may no longer speak Russian on a daily basis, my degree has provided me a life and a breadth of experiences that I could not have ever imagined at freshman orientation.