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Demetria: Public Diplomacy Specialist, Leading with Arabic

 

Professionals across industries and skill levels are sharing how they Lead with Languages: 

“Languages are constantly evolving and adapting for numerous reasons—and as a language learner it is important to recognize this and to embrace variations and language evolution early on.”

Meet Demetria—a Public Diplomacy Specialist for Syria with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of Press and Public Diplomacy

Languages: Classical Arabic & Levantine Arabic (colloquial) Demi portrait in front of blue wall

Grew Up In: Fairfax, VA

College: George Mason University

Majors: Arabic, International Studies

Study Abroad: Rabat, Morocco & Amman, Jordan


How do you use your language skills in your work/career?

I manage one of the only remaining public diplomacy programs that is operating in Syria from U.S. Embassy Damascus, which closed in 2011. Unlike some of Syria’s neighboring countries, Syria’s education system solely uses Arabic, and as a result many Syrians only speak Modern Standard Arabic and their Syrian dialect. The program content and exchange programs that I produce and facilitate for Syrian youth and adults is often conducted in Arabic to guarantee a wider reach and boost engagement.

What is the biggest misconception Americans have about learning languages?

The idea that “a standard language” exists. The misconception that an idealized, homogeneous language exists is a social construct that I often see being used to promote institutional interests or power dynamics in society (or a language classroom!). Languages are constantly evolving and adapting for numerous reasons—and as a language learner it is important to recognize this and to embrace variations and language evolution early on.

Do you have an interesting, moving, or humorous anecdote featuring your language skills to share?

Early during my Arabic studies, I was rapidly texting my Moroccan host brother in Arabic script. I was just getting used to using the Arabic keyboard, which is daunting for beginners. He stopped replying during the conversation and later ignored me for five days at home—I was shocked.

It turns out that I had accidentally texted him “I love you” during our text conversation—which was completely culturally inappropriate with my host family. Arabic has a unique root system, and one letter mishap can blatantly change the meaning of the entire word. This was my first introduction to the complexity of Arabic language learning.


Check out our Lead with Arabic page to discover programs, scholarship opportunities, student stories, and more. And for information about opportunities with government agencies and departments, be sure to read our page on Careers in Government!

Then tell us how you put your language skills to work @LeadWLanguages on social media.