Taking one year of Arabic at MHC translated to rewarding work experience

Thaenpaavai Kannan ’17

“When I walked through the gates of MHC as a 17 year old, I never would have imagined that I’d be working my dream job as an Assessment officer with an Emergency Team of a humanitarian organization in Jordan just 7 years later.

I always knew that I was interested in working in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and pursued an international relations degree and the Development Studies nexus. I then studied Arabic for two semesters during my sophomore year in the hopes of working towards my goal of working in MENA, and it has proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences ever!

While I ended up focusing on South Asia during my undergrad year, my one year of Arabic proved to be a major asset after graduation, when I was looking for internships in grad school. I ended up working with the Syria Cross-Border Monitoring and Evaluation unit of IOM Turkey, and used my knowledge of Arabic to translate data and communicate with staff. I was not particularly fluent, but the basics helped me integrate with the team and better understand the data and conext.

To this day, I still rely on my one year of Arabic classes to conduct day to day conversations with locals in Amman, and with friends in other regions speaking the language. In my current role as Assessment Officer with the REACH Syria Mission, I use my Arabic reading skills to better understand data or target questions for the field teams. While my current knowledge is minimal, my basics have been strong and have helped immensely. I could not have asked for a more fitting introduction to the region, and cannot emphasize enough, the importance of language in engaging with people and culture. I have since restarted my Arabic classes, although I have to say, they’re not as fun as Ustaadha Heba’s!”

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