Although Leila Awad, a fourth year Global Middle East Studies and History major, came from a Lebanese background, she was never taught Arabic as a child. As she got older, she accepted that she never would. Her expectations changed when she decided to enroll in UCI’s Arabic program. The first year of Arabic didn’t come easy to her, yet with all the frustrations she encountered she committed to learning. Now at the end of her second year in the program, Awad finds she has become closer to her Arab culture and her Lebanese roots. 

Of her experience she says: “ My role as president of the Arabic Language and Culture Club challenged my own perceptions of the Arab community. In our efforts to introduce the Arab culture, history, and language to Arab and non-Arab students alike, I was confronted with the realization of how ethnically and culturally diverse the Arab world truly is. I recognized that I only had a superficial understanding of the Middle East, and this made me want to dig deeper.”

One thing lead to another, and six months after finishing her first year of Arabic, she was sitting in Arabic classes at the University of Beirut. In Lebanon, she cultivated bonds with family members who only spoke Arabic. Without the skills she learned in class, she would not have had the opportunity to meet them or access their world. For Leila, even small things – like reading a sign in Arabic – were the difference between feeling like a foreigner and feeling Lebanese.

At home, her family became involved in her learning, donating to the “Why I Love Arabic Campaign” posted annually on social media. Leila’s father is happy she is learning Arabic. "She is getting closer to our religion and culture,” he says, “Lebanon will always be her home, and Arabic will allow her to fully immerse and enjoy herself there.” He hopes she will continue to take Arabic and he looks forward to helping her along the way.  Leila's father is sponsoring the prize for this year's competition.

Leila can’t wait to continue using her knowledge of Arabic to delve deeper into her culture and identity. “Arabic has pushed me to work hard to advance my knowledge of the Middle East, just as it has pushed me to challenge my own understanding of my identity,” she says. “Thanks to the Arabic program at UCI, I was able to start a journey I never thought I would have the privilege to undertake.”

- Eliza Partika