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Nuria with her sisters and the Amazon Rainforest

Nuria, UIC B.S. in Neuroscience, 2020

I am a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Neuroscience, an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Department of Psychiatry, and a former UIC CORPS member who gave tours to prospective students and their families.

As the daughter of first-generation immigrants, and technically a first-generation immigrant myself, I have grown up in a multi-cultural household. My family is ethnically from Pakistan, where my mother was raised, and my father spent some of his adolescent years.

When I was a baby, my mother taught me the Arabic, English, and Urdu alphabets and primarily spoke to me in Urdu. This was an act with great foresight because she understood that language was the key to further unlocking aspects of my cultural heritage, and she also knew that I would pick up English when I began attending school.

She was absolutely right, because once I started school I wanted to talk to absolutely everyone. However, my appreciation for language was furthered most by my love of reading. As a kindergartener, I finished the “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and my love of words began. (This became more than just a passion, as I went on to become Iowa’s twice defending State Spelling Bee Champion.)

As my love for the English language grew, I still retained my ability to speak Urdu because my mother only spoke to me in Urdu at home. Though she speaks perfect English, she would not answer me unless I spoke to her in Urdu. It is because of her single-handed efforts that I am fluent in Urdu today.

Growing up, we spent summers in Pakistan, visiting my grandmother. She understands me better than anyone in this world, and this would not have been possible without my ability to speak Urdu. Though her English was good, she was most comfortable in Urdu. Urdu was not only the key to unlocking the vibrant culture around me, but my grandmother’s incredible work in the field of women’s health as an OB-GYN in Pakistan. Her wealth of insight, and compassion, as a community hero, shaped my outlook on the world significantly.

Urdu affords me the ability to connect with people in magical ways. I meet immigrants regularly who see my South Asian features and ask, “Urdu bol tee hain?” which means, “do you speak Urdu?” The look of joy, and sometimes relief, that spreads across their faces as they recount their stories, telling me stories of their home towns in India or Pakistan, the struggles they have faced in America, and how wonderful it is to hear their native language spoken in settings they did not expect to hear it.

I took a year of Spanish classes here at UIC after studying the Romance language in high school. After this experience, I was able to use my Spanish skills in Tena, Ecuador running mobile medical clinics in the Amazon Rainforest. Without this invaluable language skill, I would not have been able to best communicate with any of the patients as fully as I did.