On a train headed for the U.S. State Department’s head­quar­ters in Wash­ington, D.C., third-​​year North­eastern stu­dent Drew McConnell over­heard a group of Egyptian jour­nal­ists ban­tering back and forth in Arabic.

McConnell, an inter­na­tional affairs and polit­ical sci­ence dual major, jumped right into the con­ver­sa­tion, having spent three semes­ters learning Arabic at North­eastern and another two months on a language-​​based Dia­logues of Civ­i­liza­tion pro­gram to Egypt.

We talked about Arab-​​American and Egyptian-​​American rela­tions,” McConnell said, adding that his con­ver­sa­tion with the vis­iting jour­nal­ists became a focus of the scribes’ article on their trip to the United States. “We talked at a level that was higher than I was used to, but I am con­fi­dent enough to approach people and know they will under­stand me and will want to engage me in con­ver­sa­tion as much as I want to engage them.”

For McConnell and thou­sands of other stu­dents at North­eastern, learning how to speak a for­eign lan­guage has become as impor­tant as studying the intro­duc­tory courses in their majors. This fall, 1,450 stu­dents are taking at least one of 13 lan­guage courses, including Swahili, Northeastern’s latest addi­tion to its lan­guage menu. Since the cre­ation of the World Lan­guages Center in 2007, the Uni­ver­sity has set new enroll­ment records in lan­guages each semester.

Stu­dents can take up to six semes­ters of any lan­guage offered. Mas­tering a for­eign lan­guage has become almost a neces­sity for the more glob­ally aware North­eastern stu­dent, said Dennis Cokely, the director of the World Lan­guages Center, adding that North­eastern also offers sev­eral novel lan­guage courses, including a Spanish class that focuses on med­ical vocab­u­lary for health care professionals.

The explo­sion of majors such as inter­na­tional affairs, which encour­ages stu­dents to explore the world, the tremen­dous growth of the Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram and the increased number of stu­dents going abroad have com­bined to give us a stu­dent pop­u­la­tion that real­izes that the way to suc­ceed is by learning other lan­guages and becoming familiar with other cul­tures,” said Coakley.

Sopho­more inter­na­tional affairs major James Eggers said that learning Por­tuguese will increase his chances of working for the Latin Amer­ican branch of Lib­erty Mutual after he graduates.

Though he’s only just begun to learn the lan­guage, he expects to go on a Dia­logue pro­gram to Brazil next summer, where he’ll have the chance to live and interact with native speakers. Living with a Brazilian family, he’ll also soak up the region’s cul­ture, his­tory, pol­i­tics and religion.

Brazil is a rising country right now,” he said, “and the best oppor­tu­nity I have for get­ting a job there is to con­tinue to learn Portuguese.”

The cul­tural and lin­guistic immer­sion offered through the Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram, study abroad and inter­na­tional co-​​op, enables North­eastern stu­dents to market them­selves as leading can­di­dates for co-​​op posi­tions and jobs after grad­u­a­tion, said Denis Sul­livan, director of the inter­na­tional affairs pro­gram and an early driver of the Dia­logues program.

Speaking a for­eign lan­guage is one of those cen­tral skills that we must have,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many stu­dents get jobs after grad­u­a­tion when employers see that they went on a Dia­logue to China and learned Chi­nese. So many orga­ni­za­tions and cor­po­ra­tions are hiring our stu­dents because of their lan­guage skills.”

Ketty Rosen­feld, director of the inter­na­tional co-​​op pro­gram, echoed Sul­livan by pointing to the lan­guage expe­ri­ence that stu­dents in health sci­ences gain by working on co-​​op in Spanish-​​speaking hos­pi­tals and clinics.

After using Spanish every day (on a job) for six months, stu­dents are cer­tainly way ahead of many of their peers who only take Spanish in the class­room,” she said. “When they grad­uate, we know for sure that they’ll relate better with patients who are immi­grants and who only speak Spanish.”

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intel­li­gence and Research hired McConnell as a co-​​op pre­cisely because he had flu­ency in a for­eign lan­guage, derived both in the class­room and in Egypt during his Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions experience.

After grad­u­a­tion, he hopes to become a mil­i­tary intel­li­gence officer with a focus on American-​​Afghan rela­tions. “With ter­rorist groups in the Middle East who are Arabic speaking, knowing the lan­guage becomes crit­ical,” he said. “The best way to break into the gov­ern­ment sector is to know a crit­ical language.”