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Elma (left) and Khobar, Saudi Arabia (Right), where she grew up

- Elma, UIC B.A. in French and Francophone Studies and Integrated Health Sciences, 2021

I am a Syrian native, born and bred in Saudi Arabia. Growing up, I learned Arabic as my mother tongue. My parents then enrolled me in a French Immersion School (Lycee Francais MLF). That is where I learned French fluently, where it became my first language. At school, we were also taught English and Arabic. Once in middle school, we began learning German. When I graduated, I had four languages under my belt. Since my family has Turkish ancestry, some of them decided to move to Turkey after the war in Syria happened. And so, my family and I started spending our summers in Turkey, which is where I started picking up on the language and learning Turkish.

Immediately I started noticing the connections among the languages I know. For example, there are many French words in Turkish, such as sinema (cinema), akvaryum (aquarium, yes aquarium is originally French and not English), asancör (ascenseur), pantalon (pantalon), and so many more! There are many Arabic words in the Turkish, French and German languages. For example tamam (ok), oda (room), boza (ice cream) and gazuz (soda) in Turkish and coton (cotton), divan (sofa), gazelle (gazelle) and girafe (giraffe) in French, and lastly limone (lemon), tasse (cup) and zucker (sugar) in German.

I believe that languages are an important asset in today's modern world, where everything and everyone is connected one way or another. Not to mention, how much of an important asset it happens to be when you’re pursuing a career. You suddenly become someone invaluable, brought on into meetings, appointments and occasions where they need someone to translate or interpret. As a Pre-Pharmacy student, I expect these languages to open up school interviews and job interviews for me, as well as expand my career one day.

I enjoy doing a lot of things in each language! I enjoy reading books or looking at memes in French, reading comic books or watching some videos in German, watching TV shows in Turkish, watching movies and TV shows in English, and listening to music in Arabic! (For the ones wondering, yes I do have an Arabic playlist on Spotify, it's called “arabiii” by elma.baki, and I also highly recommend any Fairuz song if you want to enjoy a more classical Arabic sound).

Languages also help you connect with many people. When I am with my family, I speak Arabic with them; my siblings and I however always speak French together. I have many friends, some I speak Arabic with, some English, some French and some all three at the same time! They also help you connect with locals when you visit certain countries, especially when the locals don’t speak English very well.

Moving to the United States was a big change for me, I had to adapt to learning my class material in a different language, which caused a temporary language barrier. However, the French and German classes that I’ve taken at UIC have made me feel at home and helped me adapt better, and I also have a close connection with UIC's Arab-American Center. Languages give you access to so many new experiences and help you connect with new and different people, people that you could probably not connect with if you had a language barrier. Languages open your world to many new unique experiences. It's a gift that keeps on giving.