Soldiers and Spies: Sarah Hawkes’ International American Dream

Inspired by a childhood of traveling and preserving the stories of servicemen, linguistics student Sarah Hawkes has her eyes set on a career of her own in service to her country.

unnamedPROVO, Utah (Sep. 14, 2016)—“I love languages. I always have,” commented Sarah Hawkes, explaining how her passion played into choosing her major. Having just returned from a semester abroad at Cambridge, Hawkes a linguistics major and international affairs minor, has her eyes firmly fixed on a multilingual, international future.

It’s little surprise, seeing as she has an international past. “Growing up, my mom took me traveling a lot,” Hawkes explained. “I was six the first time I went traveling.” Although she was only kindergarten-age, Hawkes said that she decided, “this is what I want to do. I want to keep traveling.” And she will, especially if she achieves her dream of working for the FBI or CIA. Asked what prompted this dream, she said, “I’ve always loved mysteries. I’ve always wanted to work for [them] because it’s a challenge.”

The concept of a challenge is not foreign to Hawkes, who has spent years working tirelessly with her mother to record and publish veterans’ memoirs, creating books that are given to the servicemen or their surviving family members. After turning a branch of a scrapbooking company into a commemoration project, Hawkes’ mother and her colleagues have devoted years to tracking down veterans and recording their stories.

Hawkes has been involved in the project since its inception, explaining, “I was a research assistant starting when I was about fifteen. I would transcribe interviews [and] help put out outlines for the books and send [them] to the other researchers.” Describing the transcription process, she admits, “It took hours. Especially because there’s so much military terminology that I didn’t understand [and] had to research.”

So why did she stick with such tedious work for so many years? The memoirs that are compiled, sometimes down to individual squadrons, are sent to the associated veterans across the country. Hawkes noted that for many, their experience with the project was the first time the veterans had ever spoken about their combat experience. The memoirs have proved many times to be cathartic and aid the veterans in processing often painful memories. Hawkes explained that as she spent more time on the project and interacting with the veterans, the work she did became very personal. “I came to really love veterans,” she said. “They’re really underappreciated, and that’s why I continue to work with my mom as much as I can.”


In addition to working with her mother, Hawkes has a lot to do to prepare for a career in the government. Her latest opportunity was the semester she spent studying at Cambridge this past summer, fulfilling her lifelong dream of studying in England. She took a class about different English dialects and accents, as well as a class focusing on the relationship between the British and American intelligence agencies since the beginning of the 20th century from professors that hail from around the globe.

Her eyes lit up as she described the experience of meeting with professors in small groups to discuss the class material: “It was really cool to pick their brains and know everything they’ve studied.” When asked if her experience abroad solidified her career plan or caused her to re-evaluate she replied, “it solidified it.” In fact, she is already on her way to the next step in the process. This summer, she plans on interning in DC for either Senator Hatch or the FBI.

But for Hawkes, the learning won’t stop there. She is studying Russian at BYU, learning Italian and Spanish on her own, and has plans to learn Arabic as well. She explained further, “I want to get a law degree from Georgetown. Having a background in international relations, linguistics and law would be very helpful in working for the government.”

Her advice to other language-learners is indicative of her attitude toward education and learning in general: “You can’t really finish up a language. Don’t finish up a language – take all the classes you can in college and then continually keep studying yourself.”

– Olivia Madsen (BA French Language, ’17)

Olivia Madsen covers events for the department of Linguistics and English Language  for the College of Humanities.  She is pursuing a degree in French Language with a minor in Writing and Rhetoric.


Photos courtesy of Sarah Hawkes