We met with Ingjerd Karstensen, an Intern for the UNDP from Norway. Ingjerd is a UG Arabic alumni studying for Arabic at the University of Edinburgh. In an interview with Ingjerd, we asked her the following questions:

Tell us about yourself

I am Ingjerd Karstensen from Norway. I graduated from University of Edinburgh in 2018 with a degree in Arabic, but initially started out as a Chemistry student. Currently, I’m doing an internship for the UNDP in Jordan.

How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?

I started studying Arabic in high school in Norway, so I have studied Arabic on and off for the past 8 years. My level is intermediate.

What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture?  What & who inspired you?  What were your motivations?

I planned to study a language as a hobby next to my Science studies in high school, and had my mind set on Latin. Then, they started offering Arabic to high school students in Norway for the first time, and I decided to try it. We were a small class of about 10 students, and our teacher was a Yemeni woman. Her and her husband were exiled from Yemen due to her husband’s writing. At the time that I started studying Arabic, the Arab spring erupted. Quickly, Arabic took over my life, and I did very badly in my Science studies, but excelled in Arabic. In the beginning I only had a mild interested for Arabic, but what really motivated me to continue was the culture, the history and the current events in the region.

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

I have had a lot of ups and downs while learning Arabic. For a while, I left languages behind to pursue Chemistry (even though I was terrible at it and didn’t like it much.) I always intended to continue Arabic on the side of my science studies, but eventually it turned out to be impossible, and I returned to language studies. Choosing to study Arabic again was one of the best decisions of my life. Especially because it brought me to Jordan. Living in the Middle East was filled with ups and downs, and I had some of my best and hardest times here. Returning to Jordan, on the other hand, has been absolutely amazing.

What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?

I have always wanted to work with human rights, and currently I’m an intern at the UNDP in Amman, Jordan, which is a dream come true. At the moment, I plan to further my skills and studies in this field. I am also playing with the idea of one day returning to Norway and help integrate Arabic-speaking refugees and immigrants there. I also wish to stay in the Arab region longer.

What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?

Dedication. You cannot half-ass (inappropriate wording?) Arabic – believe me, I tried. It’s a rich language culturally, historically, politically. You will learn so much more from Arabic than just the language.

What’s your favourite Arabic word?

Khalas. It’s such a useful and expressive word. My Yemeni teacher used it all the time, I use it all the time.

What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?

متزوجة I hear that a lot

Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?

There’s so many, but I LOVE Nawal El-Saadawi. I went to a talk she did in Edinburgh, and she blew my mind. She’s a tiny 90-year old Egyptian woman, and the most feisty woman I have ever seen.

What is your favourite place in the Arab World?

Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo is up there. It’s an beautiful ancient mosque in the middle of Cairo, with an open roof. It is so peaceful there, especially compared to the ruckus of the city. If I lived in Cairo, I would love to go and sit there as much as I can.

What is your favourite Arabic quote?

A phrase I heard in Morocco. Directly translated it means like ‘the world is peaceful and the sky is clear’. It’s expression for when everything is good in the world. الدنيا هانية والسماء صافية

What is your favourite book? Why?

It would probably have to be Nawal El-Saadawi’s book المرأة والجنس, because it’s really interesting and heart-breaking, but also fairly easy to read!


If you have studied Arabic before (no matter how little), we would love to hear from you. To share your story, please  go to SUBMIT .To find out more about the MyJourneytoArabic initiative, go to ABOUT


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