We met with Ólöf Ragnarsdóttir, a PG Arabic student alumni from Iceland who has completed a Masters in International Relations of the Middle East with Arabic (IRMEwA) at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh. In an interview with Ólöf we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself (name, origins, current degree/studies, academic background, university & graduation year, professions, etc.)
My name is Ólöf Ragnarsdóttir and I am from a small town in Iceland called Vestmannaeyjar. I graduated from the International Relations of the Middle East with Arabic (IRMEwA) program at the University of Edinburgh in November 2016. Previously I had gotten my bachelors degree in Political Science from the University of Iceland.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
My journey to Arabic basically started in September 2014 when I joined the IRMEwA program. I did not know any letters of the alphabet nor could I speak a single word when I started. After two intensive years, including a semester abroad in Birzeit University in Palestine, I had reached a level of high intermediate in Arabic. Both writing and speaking.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I wanted to learn to speak another language and Arabic was always at the top of my list. It is very different from Icelandic in many ways and a beautiful language. Also, I wanted to learn more about countries and the culture in the region and to do so properly you need to be able to speak with people, preferably in their own language.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
If someone says they did not, they are either lying or they are one in a million. There were times I struggled so much trying to wrap my head around complex Arabic grammar structures explained in English (which is not my mother tongue) to the point where I was crying in the bathroom between classes. However, that is all worth it for the moments when you realise you actually understand and can use said structures naturally. My first time having a conversation on Arabic in front of friends from Iceland is also a moment I will not forget, they were so impressed.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
For now I am teaching Arabic in the University of Iceland, which is probably the best job I have ever had. I have also been working for the city of Reykjavik as a cross-cultural mediator for Arabic speakers. My dream is to go back to Palestine and spend at least a year there in the near future and be surrounded with Arabic in everyday life. I have not yet reached the level of fluency I dream of.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
Time, time and more time. I know this is a cliché but it is also a fact that the more time you spend immersing yourself in the language, the quicker you learn it. Do all the homework, and a little extra. I guarantee you will see the results. Also, be sure to only compare you to yourself. We all learn differently and what works for your college might not work for you.