“Min wein anti?“
“I – um, ana bidee…”
“No, where are you from?”
“Uh, Michigan? Er, I mean, like, the United States.”
“No, no. Where are you from?”
“Oh. Well, I’m third generation… so… my dad’s German and my mom is Scandinavian and Native American and other things, but they were both born here. So were their parents, actually…”
I tend to fumble with this question when people come into the AROC office and see my unfamiliar blonde self typing at a computer. Asking one’s identity seems to be a way people can comfortably bond or connect on a certain level; however, for me, this question becomes especially muddled when I’ll thank clients with “chukran” or I’ll ask “keyfa hal?” when I want to know how someone is doing.
“So you have been to the Middle East?” I am often asked with a puzzled smile.
“Um, not really… but I do study Arabic back home at Michigan State University.”
“Ah…” I’ll get back in response. Now we have a common ground with which we can build a conversation.
Communication and making bonds seem to be strongly rooted in having a shared link, and this is not exclusive to just my daily awkward interactions. Whether this includes talking with a friend about plans for the day, or helping to organize for a fundraising event at places like AROC, the ability to effectively communicate is vital. After almost five years of AROC’s existence, and almost one summer of interning there, I have been able to witness first-hand the way AROC successfully interacts with the community.
AROC utilizes both Arabic and English to engage the community. They are personal and build meaningful relationships as they are familiar with families and goings-on in the community. Not only does the San Francisco Arab community fall under this categorization, but they are also connected with other San Francisco residents through a collective of other area organizations, and they continuously remain in the public eye through events and outreach. On a more personal scale, I am able to listen in on discussions in both Arabic and in English in the AROC office, ranging from legal matters to Palestinian statehood, from how a child’s day was at school to iftar plans, and from inside jokes in Arabic that I rarely understand to conducting client intake in my broken formal Arabic.
Through my internship experience, I have gained a great deal of knowledge about Arab culture and customs. I am able to sympathize with the hardships of immigration processing and I now know at least seven more ways to greet someone in Arabic than I did just a few months ago. AROC can communicate with the Arab community effectively, and because of my summer spent working with this dedicated and compassionate organization, I, too, am able to say that my ability to communicate across cultures has significantly improved to a degree I had not even begun to anticipate before boarding my flight back in June from Detroit to San Francisco.
Written by Sonja Trierweiler