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Language skills help student land auto industry job

  • Owen and friends stand on a path under cherry blossom trees in Japan.

Posted on January 01, 2017

Rebecca Owen, ’04, shifts easily between English and Japanese for her job as an interpreter at the Fowlerville Proving Grounds, where she meets Japanese engineers before they test cars on the track.

Owen graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and during her time at Grand Valley honed the Japanese language skills she started at Lansing Community College. A Grand Rapids native, Owen said she grew to love the language and culture after her parents adopted two children from Korea.

"We had a lot of Asian culture and influence in my house," she said. "Since LCC didn't offer Korean as a language, I took Japanese and fell in love with it."

While at Grand Valley, Owen participated in a study abroad program in Tokyo and studied Japanese in an immersion program at International Christian University.

Learning the complexities of the language were difficult, and while Owen was prepared for that, she wasn't prepared for the culture shock of living in another culture.

"I was placed with an older couple who didn't speak any English and the only way to communicate with my family was through the fax machine," she said. "They didn't have internet at all."

Owen began suffering from panic attacks and said she thought about quitting the program and coming back to the U.S.

Grand Valley's Padnos International Center helped relocate Owen to an ICU living center; almost immediately, she said, life in Japan improved dramatically.

"As soon as I knew I could communicate with my family, and I would be living with other college students, I knew I would be fine," she said.

Her bilingual skills were in high demand after graduation. Owen worked as a translator for an automotive supplier in Novi for two years, and then was hired by her current company, FT Techno of America.

"We have a lot of Japanese customers here. My job responsibilities have tripled since I've been here but at the core, when they need someone to interpret, I'm called up," she said.