Obies Using Languages: Jimmy Fleming ’18

Jimmy is a member of the class of 2018 and is currently undeclared, but he is hoping to create an individual major in Linguistics in addition to perhaps declaring a Religion major. He has studied Spanish for several years and has begun learning Arabic at Oberlin.

I use my love of language to connect to the people around me! My Spanish TA is from Peru, where I spent the summer after my junior year of high school, so we talk a lot about all things Peruvian. By learning Arabic, I am getting to know my Arabic TA better than if we only knew each other by others means. There’s something really magical about being able to connect to someone like that, and to take those skills out into the world. I had a really awesome high school Spanish teacher, and he gave me the tools to really integrate Spanish into my person when I was in Peru, surrounded by Spanish speakers. It was a struggle, but being able to use a second language to make communication that wouldn’t otherwise be possible feels like a superpower sometimes! Really, it’s so cool. Even if you suck, people will really appreciate the effort you make in learning their language.

There are a thousand million things I want to do with languages outside of the school, but I guess I’ll start with I’ve already done. As I said earlier, I went to Peru for eight weeks the summer after my junior year in high school with Amigos de las Américas. I lived with a host family during that time in a rural part of the Department of Cajamarca, in Peru. Two other volunteers lived with host families in the same community as me, and we worked with the community to organize a project. We ended up getting a medicine chest and other supplies that they needed for their clinic through fundraising, as well as repainting the old clinic they were moving out of. We also did charlas (summer campy activity things?) with the primary school over things like creativity and fire safety. It was the first year our organization had been in that region of Peru, so it was difficult for both sides to get things started. Learning how to articulate ourselves in Spanish in order to accomplish all of these things really improved our speaking skills, but more importantly, it taught me a lot about another culture and it was the beginning of a cultural exchange between both sides. The goal of the program is to inspire youth leadership through cultural exchange, and it was really awesome that I was able to learn so much through my Spanish skills, and I (hopefully) left them knowing more than they did about the culture I represented while I was there. I hope to return soon! I would also like to use my Spanish skills to connect more to my homeland of New Mexico.

I would like to also do a lot in pursuit of learning Arabic, like a year abroad in the Middle East. Language is my passion, but I can’t help but be interested by Islam, which seems to be the most relevant topic in the world right now. There are a myriad of things that I want to do through studying Arabic, like the connection between Spanish and Arabic culture, language and religion. Even though most people in the Islamic world don’t speak Arabic, it carries a great significance as the language of the Quran and the language of worship. I’m also greatly interested in the connection between the formation of Arabic and Islam. Arabic was just another tiny Semitic language before Islam spread, almost annihilating Aramaic, which was the lingua franca of the Middle East and parts of the Near East and even far into the East for nearly a millennium. The vocabulary of the Quran became the standard and is what Modern Standard Arabic is built upon, some even arguing that they’re the same. I eventually want to take my skills in Arabic and Islam and work in an NGO or in diplomacy. There is also a really awesome think tank called Quilliam that was founded by a former Islamic Extremist that challenges extremism around the world.

The professors and TAs at Oberlin are super supportive and are willing to help you with just about anything you ask them, as long as you give your best effort while working with them. Even professors who you don’t have a class with will be more than happy to help you out. Also, older students are willing to help you out, which is especially helpful for me because organizing an Independent Major is really hard, and it’s awesome to have someone who I can ask for advice from about the process.


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