From high school German class to a video game studio

Jos Johnson has a pretty enviable job. While she points out that there is a lot more to her work than just playing video games, it’s a pretty important part of the job description– something which became possible thanks to her decision to study German as a second language. Jos graduated from MSU with a degree in German, which she uses in her job at a video game company where she is a localization tester for the German translation of their games. After the games are translated, she plays the German version to make sure that the translations make sense in context, and suggests changes for those that don’t work quite right. One of the things that drew her to her current position was the ability to be involved in a collaborative team effort, where she can interact on a daily basis with the range of creative processes that go into creating the finished game. Though Jos loves getting to use her German skills at work every day, she didn’t plan it out that way. She took a long path to get here, one which began way back in high school.

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Jos’s relationship with German began on a whim. She had to fulfill her school’s language requirement, and the German language was the one she knew the least about. Based on nothing more than that, she made her decision, not knowing it would be the thread to continue throughout her higher education and into her career. While studying German during her undergraduate years at MSU, Jos participated in the Academic Year in Freiburg, a language-intensive study abroad program in Germany. Her interest in German had continued past high school because she wanted to broaden her worldview, and language was a way to do that. It allowed her to travel, learn about different cultures, and develop new perspectives– for example, she valued the ability to read world news that came from a different country, something that inevitably offered a different lens.

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Jos knew she was passionate about language learning, and originally she thought of turning it into a career through teaching. With this in mind, she spent a second year abroad in a Japanese village, this time teaching English with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program. Though the language she was learning had changed, the lessons she had learned while living in Germany helped her become even more immersed in the community where she lived. Unlike with German, however, she had less time to prepare her Japanese before moving. This meant that she was forced to learn a lot as she went, and she was especially grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the people who welcomed her into their community. After returning to the U.S. and spending two years in grad school, Jos still wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted to do for her career. So, she made another unplanned decision. She decided to move to the West Coast, hoping to find a job– she refers to it as a leap of faith, one which was successful. It was there that Jos began doing German translation work, which eventually led to her career in the video game industry.

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Not only is Jos’s journey with foreign language responsible for her career, it also changed the way she interacts with others. Though it may sound unrelated, she credits her experiences abroad for shaping the way she’s formed community in Seattle– specifically, in her dragon boating club. This type of rowing, which originated in China, is very much a team sport, as there can be more than twenty people on one boat who have to work together. Jos considers her team to be like her family, but not an exclusive one. After spending a couple years living in places where her native language set her apart from others, she experienced the impact of being truly welcomed by others into an unfamiliar place. Now, she’s extending this lesson in hospitality into her athletic club. The people who warmly welcomed Jos when she was an outsider inspired her to do the same for newcomers to dragon boating.

Jos wanted to learn German to broaden her worldview, and that certainly happened. But the study of languages didn’t just expose her to new places, or the different things she could read. Language learning has taught her to become more openly curious– accepting that she doesn’t know all of the answers, and being willing to ask questions. It’s an exercise in humility, and it’s helped her to shed a bit of the fear of failure that we all know so well. Jos’s path with foreign language was unique, but she points out that it’s not necessary to do something as dramatic as moving to Europe or Asia in order to learn the same lessons. The most important thing is an openness to communicate with new people–to listen, to be welcoming, and to ask questions–whether across the ocean, or just on the other side of your city.

- Story by Katherine Stark

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