Why I’m Dedicating My Life to Teaching Arabic

Courtesy of Casey Chon
Welcome to the inaugural class of '29. We've selected 29 graduating college seniors, entering the "real" world in 2018, to write about the state of their lives. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, stressors, failures, and successes as they leave school behind? We will be releasing new entries on a daily basis. If you would like yours to be considered, please email classof29@refinery29.com.
I was 5 years old and 30 miles away from Manhattan on September 11, 2001. As a Korean-American growing up in a town devoid of diversity, everything I came to know about the Middle East and other countries “over there” came from the news. I heard relentlessly about war, terror, retaliation and oil, but I had no idea what any of it meant. I knew nothing about the histories and cultures of these places. When I left for college, I felt a moral responsibility to educate myself about these topics, and as a first step, I signed up for Arabic 101.
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My love for Arabic grew throughout college. I attended immersion programs where I spoke no English for eight weeks, studied abroad in Morocco and took classes that gave me a wider worldview on the history, politics and cultures of Arabic-speaking countries. My senior thesis on how and why Arabic education in the United States needs to improve called for the widespread implementation of Arabic-specific foreign language degree programs, because I researched more than 100 schools and could only find three with degrees for teaching Arabic.
I’m now working towards my graduate degree at one of these institutions.
I’m dedicating my life to teaching Arabic because I love the language. I love the people I’ve met through my studies and the adventures that I’ve had — whether that’s sneaking out of a seven-hour class for a pancake run, discussing religion and culture during Ramadan at midnight in Morocco or being nominated and chosen to speak at a collegiate language symposium. Had I never confronted what I didn’t know, I would not have had any of these adventures. I certainly wouldn’t be in graduate school on a full scholarship, trailblazing my way of making the world a better place.
Illustrated by Paola DeLucca
Beyond that, teaching Arabic has become my way of promoting dialogue between cultures. When the current president was elected, someone at my school burned the American flag in the middle of campus to the ground. I don’t support the current administration but I also don’t support the burning of flags. Radical actions will not work towards the advancement of any community. Especially in these divisive and polarizing times, we need to approach one another with an open mind. We do not have to agree with or understand everyone we encounter, but we should all be willing to listen to others and start conversations. Creating dialogue between people who who don’t share your politics or religion, or people who grew up in a different country or community can bring a whole new perspective into your life. Even talking to people outside of your major on campus can be a first step.
I want to use the teaching of a foreign language to facilitate a more nuanced dialogue that needs to exist in today’s discourse on every topic. Learning a language that is profoundly unlike English and is found in cultures and countries with beautiful different traditions can only work to expand my future students’ worldviews. I hope that through teaching, my students can start discussions with their peers about why Arabic is important to them. Perhaps their conversations and experiences will be life changing. It certainly was for me.
Casey Chon is a Korean-American that went to an undergraduate school without grades or majors. She started her graduate program three days after obtaining her BA, and plans on teaching Modern Standard Arabic at the high school level in the United States afterwards. Follow her adventures on Instagram @andshesfearless, or connect with her on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/casey-chon-1baa939b/
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