2008 Boren Fellowships
North Carolina State University
In graduate school, I began studying Arabic because I aspired to pursue a career in international humanitarian work. I felt it would be beneficial for me to be linguistically prepared to serve in as many parts of the globe as possible. I grew up in El Salvador during the civil war of the '80s, earned a B.A. in French while an undergrad, and carried out some public health research in Benin on a Fulbright grant, so I already had experience in Spanish and French. It made sense for me to learn another language, and Arabic seemed to be the one that would open the most doors.
While in Egypt, I spent six hours a day studying Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Egyptian colloquial Arabic at a language school. When classes were out of session, I worked full-time as a graduate intern with a local social-development non-governmental organization (NGO). Working with the local NGO gave me a better sense for the locals’ perspective, helped me gain insight into the culture, kept me out of the expat bubble, and gave me a built-in way to develop relationships with host nationals. During my internship, I worked closely with my colleagues to develop a new project that would facilitate social mobility for the residents of Misr el Qadiima (one of Cairo's poorest slums) through education, vocational training and microfinance.
I came out of the Boren Fellowship with advanced-low proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic. While good, I sometimes wish I had given myself even more time overseas to reach a higher level. Still, combined with my previous teaching experience, my Arabic language skills did help me to secure my current position at a project in San Diego funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the Department of Health and Human Services. I am in charge of teaching newly-arrived refugees, who are primarily from Iraq, how to begin the process of acculturation. I also conduct outreach to educate the community about Iraqi refugees: who they are, what they’ve left behind, and what they are doing in San Diego.
I had an awesome experience during my Boren-funded language study in Egypt. I still stay in touch with my old colleagues from my internship. The project I worked on is now the cornerstone of their efforts and the occasional updates I hear are encouraging.
Written: March 2012