The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to speak to Peter Turcic, currently a content writer at Sokanu, in a live, fireside Q&A.
The transcript below has been modified and abridged from the original conversation.
Peter Turcic is a content writer at Sokanu/CareerExplorer and is based in Vancouver, Canada. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in French and General Linguistics from Simon Fraser University, and has studied Slavonic languages and cultures at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. Peter speaks English, French, Croatian, and Italian. He has taught French and travel/tourism operations courses at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Peter’s original career plan was to teach high school French, but he caught the travel bug and ended up entering the travel and tourism industry. He worked for Carlson Marketing Worldwide, Air Canada, British Airways, and in corporate hospitality roles at the Olympic Games in London, Vancouver, Torino, Athens, Salt Lake City, Sydney, and Calgary.
Before joining CareerExplorer, Peter was a freelance writer and completed marketing, branding, and editorial projects for businesses and non-profits including Expedia, Vancouver International Airport, Japan Airlines, Aimia, Meetings & Incentive Travel Magazine, and Oceans Blue Foundation.
Getting Started in Linguistics and Languages
What drew you to the field of linguistics, particularly to French? Was it something you were always interested in?
I enjoyed French classes in high school and became intrigued about the structures of different languages. It became fascinating to me that translating a thought from one language to another is never about word to word translation. It involves considering cultural implications, and the direct equivalents of words used to convey an idea in one language are often not the way to communicate the same idea in another language.
Did you study linguistics and languages with specific aspirations/career goals in mind, or simply for the love of learning languages?
My original career plan was to become a high school French teacher. That was the primary catalyst for choosing my major and minor.
Can you tell us a little bit about the linguistics curriculum? What type of person would do well in this type of study?
Linguistics explores the nature of language, how it evolves over time, how it is processed and stored in the human brain, and how it is acquired. Its principal sub-areas are phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. Phonetics is concerned with how speech sounds are produced and perceived. Phonology is about patterns of sounds in different languages. Morphology is the study of the structure of words. Syntax is about sentence structure. Semantics is the study of linguistic meaning.
This summary of linguistics may lead people to think that the field is pretty narrow. But because language is so central to human existence, there is considerable crossover of linguistics into other fields. For example, a bachelor’s program in linguistics can serve as an entry point for a master’s degree in fields such as speech-language pathology or audiology.
A minor in linguistics is a smart choice for students majoring in computer science or artificial intelligence. AI aims at simulating human intelligence by computer, and language is one of the primary expressions of human intelligence. Students considering careers in psychology, sociology, and anthropology can all benefit from courses in linguistics, because linguistics is an important aspect of each of those disciplines.
Psycholinguistics is concerned with the ways in which language is represented and processed in the brain. Sociolinguistics deals with the social attitudes that determine which linguistic variety, language feature, or style speakers choose in various situations. Linguistic anthropology studies human behavior and culture through the languages particular groups use.
It’s also interesting to note that Microsoft hired linguists to develop the grammar-checking function for Windows software. Linguists also work to improve the quality of automated translation and build natural language processing systems, which help computers communicate with humans in their own language. Certainly, linguistics is a fit for anyone intrigued by languages and their evolution, but an interest in the field doesn’t limit educational and career possibilities to just that discipline.
A Journey into Travel and Tourism
What made you decide to pivot from becoming a high school French teacher, and to instead enter the travel and tourism field?
The traveling that I did in my teens got me excited about travel and opportunities to use my language skills in that industry.
Can you tell us about different roles you discovered and held within the travel industry?
My first job in the travel and tourism sector was as a corporate travel agent. The company I worked for had several large corporations as clients and I arranged travel for their executives and staff traveling on company business. For several years in that role, my primary client was the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Club. This was in the days when NHL teams traveled commercially instead of on private charters, as they do today. That position was fun, but also very demanding. Not only was I booking the team’s flights, I was also arranging all of their ground transportation and team meals, and dealing with the many last-minute changes that inevitably occurred.
At Air Canada, I worked as a training instructor. I trained travel agents on the use of computerized reservations systems. The role also involved creating the training curriculum and student manuals. At British Airways, my title was inside sales support representative. This involved liaising with the local travel agent community — mostly on the phone — to resolve booking and reservation issues such as clearing flight waitlists, correcting ticketing errors, dealing with refund requests, and managing travel agency-airline contracts.
My work with Carlson Marketing Worldwide grew out of my first job as a travel agent. The local company I worked for was acquired by a large global company. Part of their portfolio of services was arranging incentive travel programs for companies wanting to reward or ‘incentivize’ employees and/or customers. I was not part of the event planning team, which was dedicated to organizing and coordinating these incentive trips. I was part of the operations team.
My role, along with other staff in the same role, was to fly to the destination ahead of the program participants and make sure the details of the trip put in place by the event planners actually happened as planned once the participants arrived. This involved meeting with local destination management companies, transportation companies, event venues, restaurants, and entertainment providers. Of course, once the trip winners arrived, the role evolved from advancing and preparing to operating and overseeing.
It was while doing this job that I traveled a large part of the world. I worked on incentive programs all over the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe, as well as in mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa.
My jobs in travel and tourism certainly allowed me to use the languages I had learned, but most importantly they opened my eyes to the world. They widened my perspectives with a world view, which to this day I credit for giving me a deep appreciation for different cultures, traditions, and of course, food!
What type of corporate hospitality roles did you have at the Olympic Games?
My Olympic Games experiences were an extension of my work in incentive travel. Just as companies use high-end trips to motivate and thank employees and customers, some also do so in the context of trips to attend the Olympics. Typically, these companies are, at various levels, sponsors of the Olympic Games. Sponsor status gives them easier access to purchasing tickets to Olympic events, which are of course the highlight of these trips for anyone fortunate enough to be an invitee.
As a member of the corporate hospitality staff, I held various roles for the seven Games at which I worked. Some of the responsibilities assigned to me were ground transportation coordination, event ticket management, and local volunteer staff scheduling.
Olympic Games contracts are extremely demanding. They require being away from home for a month or more, workdays can be more than 12 hours long, and the nature of the Games means that one is constantly dealing with strict security and protocols. There is always a need to remain aware and respectful of cultural idiosyncrasies. There are inevitable challenges to overcome. The overall cultural experience, though, is like no other. And there are some nice perks: I attended several high-profile sports events as well as multiple opening and closing ceremonies.
How much did being flexible and being open to trying new things come into play while making these career transitions?
For me, it was not so much that flexibility was required in these career transitions. The changes and transitions were never forced upon me. They were always choices that I made personally, in search of something different, something that I expected would be more exciting, and something that would be a completely new and possibly transformative experience.
I will say that ‘being open’ was a big part of my venturing into incentive travel and Olympic hospitality, because initially I wasn’t completely sure that that kind of work — which sometimes had me traveling for up to 200 days per year — was a fit for me. But I rolled the proverbial dice and entered a career that for a long time I didn’t even know existed, yet one which ultimately gave me so much, not the least of which is friends and colleagues around the globe.
What career opportunities are there in the field of travel and tourism? In hospitality?
Travel, tourism, and hospitality combine to make up a massive field, which offers opportunities for different types of people with different interests.
Here’s a very comprehensive resource for anyone thinking about a career in the field: Careers in Travel
Should someone interested in working in travel and tourism pursue a degree in that field?
The answer to that question really depends on the specific travel/tourism career that an individual chooses. Someone looking to work in a management level role would probably be better off completing a business administration degree, for example.
An aspiring travel agent would be well advised to complete at least some formal training in that area, because the rules and regulations concerning airfares and tour packages have become rather complex and technical. Travel agents do typically undergo on-the-job training, but a job candidate with foundational knowledge and skills is, of course, a more competitive candidate.
For those interested in climbing the career ladder in the hotel management sector, there are some renowned hospitality schools in Europe. Among the best are: École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), Switzerland; Glion Institute of Higher Education, Switzerland; Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, Switzerland; Swiss Hotel Management School, Switzerland; Hotel School the Hague, Netherlands; and HTMi Hotel and Tourism Management Institute, Switzerland.
Freelance Writing, Marketing, and Branding
You were a freelance writer and completed marketing, branding, and editorial projects for businesses and nonprofits. Can you tell us how this leg of your journey came about?
I have always loved to write. I found myself writing in many of my roles that were not writing focused. For instance, when I worked as an Incentive Travel Director and in Olympic hospitality, I was always the staff person charged with writing some of the collateral material that was needed in the job — things like welcome letters, event invitations, even some speeches. Once, when former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was a guest speaker at a corporate event that I was operating, I was asked to write the company president’s thank you note to him. Writing was somehow always ‘around’ me.
After my career at British Airways ended, I decided to pursue writing as a profession. My first gig happened unexpectedly. I was out for dinner with one of my best friends. We ran into a friend of hers whom I did not know, and she sat down with us for an after-dinner drink. I learned that she worked for a destination management company in Vancouver and that they desperately needed to update/rewrite all of their tour descriptions and marketing material. She hired me on the spot. And that was the beginning of another career.
In the years that followed I wrote many different kinds of pieces. In response to the events of 9/11 I wrote the introduction to Vancouver International Airport’s 2001 Annual Report, conveying a renewed sense of air safety and security without presenting an intimidating, uninviting image of the airport. I wrote the Sydney Olympics ‘Come See What’s Up Down Under’ tagline and brochure for the same international travel company that had hired me in a travel role.
My first boss at the travel company got me my first editorial gig with Meetings and Incentive Travel Magazine. I chose to write about making philanthropic events part of corporate incentive programs and titled the piece ‘Incentive to Care.’ I traveled to Japan to research a marketing piece to promote Japan Airlines Business Class and Japanese ski resorts. As you can see, my writing career was initially very connected to my travel career.
What differences did you notice when working for businesses versus nonprofits?
First and foremost, nonprofits typically — and understandably — have lower budgets with which to work. So it’s not uncommon to charge somewhat less when working with them as a freelancer. Making this sacrifice from time to time was not an issue for me, especially if the project was a creative challenge and I supported the work the organization was doing.
Otherwise, there really aren’t any differences. The job is always to create a quality piece or pieces that achieve the client objective. And whether working with a business or nonprofit, the process invariably involves drafts, discussions, and edits to craft the perfect product.
One bit of advice for the first-time freelancer: try to quote an hourly versus a project rate for your work. A flat project rate can leave you at a financial loss if the client requires multiple changes and/or makes additions to the project along the way.
How difficult was it to get work as a freelance writer?
The very nature of freelancing means that you have as much work as you find. So, essentially you have two jobs simultaneously. You are a writer. And you are a marketer. If you don’t market yourself, you will have nothing to write. That fact can at times pose challenges. And as every freelancer knows, freelancing is a game of peaks and valleys, of too much work and not enough work. It requires stamina to get through the overworked periods, and patience and creativity to manage the stretches of too little or no work at all.
Do you recommend having a portfolio of your work for interviews?
A portfolio is essential! My own contains virtually every piece I have ever created. You never know which past project or experience is going to intrigue and captivate your next client.
What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a career in languages and linguistics?
Most importantly, recognize that learning to speak a second or third language and to understand the linguistic structure of a language is not just an intellectual process. It is a cultural and social journey as well. Language reflects our perception of the world. That’s why the work of translation is so demanding and fascinating. And that’s why the best way to learn a language is in a place where there are native speakers.
Also, don’t look too narrowly at a language or linguistics degree. As I mentioned earlier, while working in language education is a common career for holders of a degree in these fields, opportunities for language and linguistics majors span other disciplines as well, including philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, computer science, and artificial intelligence.
What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a career in the travel and tourism industry?
Think about which specific area of the industry interests you. And then research the best pathway to that goal, which may begin with some formal education, an entry-level job, or a combination of both.
A particular benefit of working in travel and tourism is that it is composed of so many interconnected sectors. I know several people who have transitioned within the industry multiple times, for example from retail travel agency to airline to tour company to hotel to attractions to events and conferences to the government tourism board.
What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a career in writing?
There is certainly nothing wrong with taking formal creative writing, copywriting courses, etc. But above all, my advice is this: write, write, and write some more. Read, read, and read some more. Show your writing to others. Experiment with different styles. Decide what you like to write. Just write. That’s how you will find your writing voice.
However your career evolves, remember that it is very much a journey. It is a series of shifts and pivots. It will present moments of elation, sadness, certainty, frustration, defeat, and transition.
But if you understand and accept this from the beginning, you will always move forward in the knowledge that this is just what a career is—a non-static, inspiring, challenging, exciting part of life.