My name is Amy, and I’m a sophomore nursing major currently enrolled in Arabic 102. I decided to learn Arabic because for years I’ve been interested in working as a nurse in under served areas of the Middle East. I thought learning Arabic would be a great first step of preparation, and that has certainly been the case! Learning Arabic has been challenging, but it has also been thoroughly enjoyable. The same is true for my tentative attempts to use Arabic outside the classroom. I frequently get the chance to practice speaking Arabic, because for the past six months I have been visiting an Iraqi refugee family who lives near Loyola. I have been helping them learn English and introducing them to Chicago, and they have been teaching me Arabic and feeding me delicious food every week! I was with them when they went sledding for the first time and for their first visit to Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park. I’ve had the pleasure of taking the children trick-or-treating for their first Halloween, hosting the family at my house for Thanksgiving, and celebrating Christmas with them. It has been so much fun to see them enjoying all the new experiences that life in Chicago can bring.
The first time I met them, I had only been in Arabic 101 for two days, and they had only been in the U.S. for three weeks! We played a lot of Charades that day trying to communicate! Each time I’ve visited since then, I’ve gotten new opportunities to activate my vocabulary in conversation. At times, it is embarrassing. I frequently stumble over pronunciation, especially when I try to choke out that dreaded letter ʿayn. But every attempt has been worthwhile! My Iraqi friends are delighted to see any progress on my part and are always eager to chat with me in Arabic. The children applauded when I first learned to count to ten, and quickly tried to teach me how to count to 100! The mother was pleased when I learned to say, “al-Hamdu lillaah,” when I finished a meal and “shukran,” when she gave me tea.
As I struggle to learn Arabic, I am better able to appreciate the daily difficulties that they face, the challenges that come with being suddenly immersed in an English-speaking culture. Practicing Arabic in this context has allowed me to not only develop my language skills, but also engage in rewarding and mutually constructive cross-cultural experiences with my Iraqi friends.