American Students Studying Arabic for More Than Just Getting a Job
BY: Kristina Perry and Clara Ana Ruplinger/Contributing Writers
In the U.S. today, Arabic is a language that has been highly stigmatized. Individuals speaking Arabic have found that using the language, or even looking Arab, can make a person seem so threatening that they can be thrown off of planes, harassed, or even attacked. In the climate of fear and xenophobia permeating the West, the Arabic language is rarely recognized for its beautiful heritage and the impact that it has made on the world.
Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, and contains a literary tradition as prolific as that of the West, with writers like Mahmoud Darwish, and Nizar Qabbani. The Arabic language has significantly influenced many other languages, including English, Spanish, and Maltese. Some common English words derived from Arabic include coffee, algebra, almanac, zenith, and more. Many languages and cultures use Arabic script as their mode of writing, as well as Arabic numerals. Arabic calligraphy continues to be a highly cultivated art form of the Arab and Islamic world.
Additionally, Arabic is the fastest growing language of study across college campuses in the U.S. It was listed by the State Department as a critical language. Students studying Arabic have access to hundreds of scholarships and lucrative programs that send students to study abroad in the Arab world. In the years between 2002-2009, students pursuing a degree in Arabic grew by nearly 200%.
The lure of Arabic can be explained in part by the energy industry, which has always played a massive role in U.S. economics and international policy. As students entering college look to see which degree will yield the highest return and increase their chances of getting hired quickly after graduation, more and more choose Arabic.
Fluency in Arabic grants degree holders competitive access to careers as translators, security contractors, intelligence officers, and demonstrates a committed spirit and willingness to learn. Rated as one of the top three hardest languages to learn for English speakers, immersion into countries with native speakers is a key feature of most Arabic language programs. However, these programs have a surprising side result, as well.
Students that learn Arabic and study abroad in nations with a majority of Arabic speakers return to the United States with a more tolerant, open, and multicultural understanding of the Arab world and Islam. Upon reaching an Arab country and spending time among the culture, it becomes clear that the region is much more than how it is portrayed in Western media.
With the most hospitable and generous people in the world, the Middle East as always been famous for captivating its visitors and turning them into lifelong inhabitants. It’s easy to see why. Rich in history, culture, and the most breathtaking landscapes, there is an endless list of places to explore and people to meet. Experiencing the whirlwind of bazaars, amazing food, and stumbling upon a society that treats guests like family shocks Western preconceptions about the Arab world, forcing students to reevaluate the stereotypes.
Being able to speak and read a different language enables understanding beyond the superficial limits. In this way, the distant becomes near and whole realms of thought, emotions, and scholarship open up. So many nuances of culture are lost in translation, and it is imperative to bridge these gaps to build understanding and connectivity.
Upon returning to the U.S., students having experienced Arab culture and gained the ability to communicate with incoming refugees, immigrants, and Arab communities in the States on a deeper level. But they return to a climate embroiled in an increasingly biased portrayal of the culture they now hold dear.
Understanding and education is the answer to an increasingly tense and discriminatory environment, and students studying the Arab world and Arabic have an important battle ahead of them. By acting as ambassadors and liaisons, college students continue to combat the false portrayals of Arab communities in the States and show the Arabic language for what it is: a beautiful language, accompanying a rich and equally beautiful culture, abundant in tradition and friendship.