Opinion, World

The Power of Language Immersion

Here at King’s Academy, global citizenship is highly regarded and revered. Language is an integral portion of being a global citizen. Graduation requirements at King’s include both Arabic and a (for some, second or even third) foreign language such as Spanish, French, or Chinese. Last summer I spent one month living and working in a chalet in Gruyeres where I experienced authentic Swiss culture and received an exceptional education in French. I stayed with a Swiss family that housed tourists in their quaint and cozy B&B, on top of keeping over 40 cows to produce mainly Gruyere cheese. The family spoke limited English, which helped improve my French language skills and my knowledge of Swiss culture. My main reason for traveling abroad was not only to gain more fluency in French, but also to work for my room and board. I split my time between working at their chalet as a farmhand and working at the B&B. It was the most rewarding experience of my life and I cannot stress how important it is to learn a language that is not native to your home country.

My daily life working as a farm hand included early mornings, exceptional scenery, and speaking lots of French! Along with one other farmhand and the Swiss family, I rose around 5am to fetch the cows in the fields after they had been grazing all night. For three hours, I would trek through the Swiss Alps with another farmhand, searching for and herding the 40 cows back to the chalet for milking. After feasting on breakfast and cleaning up, we would nap, rest, or study for two hours. I used this time to go on hikes or speak with others to practice my French. Then lunch would be served, eaten, and tidied up around noon. After this we would repeat the process of herding the cows back to pasture and milking them. The night would end sitting around the dinner table eating delicious food and conversing—in French, of course.

Although I did not take part in an official language program, I had one of the most intellectually and personally enriching experiences of my life. There is vulnerability when faced with a situation where you are the outsider and you can’t communicate, but I believe this is a very healthy emotion. This feeling creates more empathy as you can relate to those who are unable to speak the same language as you.

I came to King’s Academy through the Arabic Year program, which “offers high school students one year of intensive Arabic language study, Middle Eastern cultural immersion and experiential learning.” AY has opened up so many doors that were previously closed at my former school. I have been graced with the opportunity to travel to Turkey, experience homestays, learn more about Jordan, and, of course, learn Arabic. I had previously experienced a small taste of the language when I lived in Jeddah for a year in seventh grade. Through my immersion in the culture, I knew that the Middle East was a place where I wanted to study further. Returning home was detrimental to my knowledge of Arabic. Although my sister (Hannah Ellis ’14) and I continued taking Arabic classes during our free time, there is nothing like learning a language in the place where it is natively spoken. We realized that learning as difficult a language as Arabic required us to study in the Arab world.

In my experience, complete immersion is the best way learn both a foreign language and its culture. I am honored to be part of an institution that fosters global citizenship as one of its guiding principles. As the members of the next generation, we must build bridges to connect and unite people, especially at times like these where people are at such large odds. Language is the most basic piece in the puzzle of communication. If we are not able to talk, reason with, and understand one another, conflicts are much more likely to occur.

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