Like most kids, I spent my childhood asking lots of questions. Aside from the typical questions such as why the sky is blue or how babies are made, I pondered what place I had in this country as a first-generation American. I wondered why I did not look like some of my first-grade classmates or how I could speak multiple languages while they could not, never stopping to consider the privilege I had to experience so many different worlds in just a lifetime. I grew up half-French and half-Pakistani, therefore spoke three languages fluently by the age of five.
I remember the first movies I ever watched was in French and the first few conversations with my family being in Urdu. Over the years, I found my answers through embracing my multiracial heritage, preserving and understanding my personal roots through language and establishing an identity I'm proud of today.
While tutoring in an elementary school's ESL class I met Ayman, a second-grade student from Côte d'Ivoire. I became interested in understanding a child who questions the world the way I do. His eyes lit up the first time I fluently spoke to him in French, the native language we both share. We instantly connected as I was the only French-speaker he met in school.
I immediately felt a bond with this child I had only known for a few short weeks, and to know that I was a source of comfort to someone who was learning to adapt to a new environment full of unfamiliarity. This is what sparked me to become interested in language, and I began stepping outside the bounds of cultural familiarity in order to strengthen my appetite for questioning my surroundings.
The presence of language fueled my fascination for intercultural communications and the primary purpose it holds—to stay curious. I oftentimes hear many complain about the language requirement installed by numerous academic institutions, saying that it's "useless" or "irrelevant to my major." Many believe schools focus too much attention on having students immerse themselves in learning a language they don't want to learn or feel that language may not be part of the curriculum that they want to participate in. From the eyes of a first-generation American, I strongly oppose this notion with the argument that language is much deeper than just the study of subject-verb agreement or knowing the vocabulary.
The experience I've had with language, both native and acquired, have taught me far more than just how to verbally communicate with someone from a different cultural angle than I. Language taught me to comfortably interact with individuals holding different perspectives, to grasp the world with a different grip and learn to analyze what and why people do. It motivates me to absorb any knowledge I come across as my mind never stops learning and leads me to bring my very own perspective to any culture at hand with a bout of open-mindedness and acceptance of others.
I continue to ask lots of questions today, such as what my future will hold and how I will interact with my surroundings as a unique individual. It's safe to say that the curiosity I have for the world around me, however, never left, and is one I encourage anyone to embody regardless of their experience with the language.
Whether through visiting a country and picking up on basic vocabulary or taking classes at a university, defeat the notion that curiosity killed the cat and instead, let it lead you to dive into the unknown, one cultural experience at a time.