A path unlocked by language

For Kevin Barry, learning Yoruba while earning a degree in International Studies and certificates in African Studies and Global Cultures has proven to be a ‘golden key’ to a career that’s taken him from Nigeria to New York and beyond.

What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison? 

I have worked as a freelance translator and interpreter for the Department of Defense, worked in the entertainment industry in Nigeria and worked in project management and business development for a communications consulting firm based in New York that developed and executed nation branding initiatives for heads of state in African and Middle Eastern countries. I recently took the leap to start my own consulting and private equity firm.

What motivated you to study Yoruba?

I have played drums for over a decade and studied Cuban and Brazilian music in high school. I always learned that the roots of many of these rhythms originated in Nigeria. When I had the opportunity to enroll in a FIG centered around Yoruba language and culture, it sounded like a great way to broaden my horizons while simultaneously satisfying my general education requirements.

How has the language enriched your life? 

I studied Yoruba to a high degree of proficiency through UW Language classes and an intensive yearlong study abroad program in Nigeria … Speaking Yoruba has been a golden key to many doors that most people cannot open. It has enabled me to understand a culture that is widely misunderstood but houses many hidden lucrative business opportunities. My language skills have also enabled me to build a network of globally recognized mentors, politicians and business leaders I would otherwise have no way to build rapport with.

How have you maintained or improved your language since graduation?  

After graduating, I was determined to utilize the valuable linguistic gift I had gained and learned in college. I took it upon myself to further broaden and strengthen my network of contacts in Nigeria. I seek every possible opportunity to utilize the language and still speak it every day. I also watch Nigerian movies, listen to radio from Nigeria and read news and social media in Yoruba to keep my skills strong. I have spent an additional year and half working in Nigeria since I graduated and still go back several times per year.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know? 

Orí — a Yoruban word that means “your intrinsic spirit/voice/guiding force.” It is an important concept in the culture and has no direct translation in English.

Story courtesy of Languages at UW-Madison.