I get asked this question a lot since I do not work for the government, I did not marry an Arab, and I am of European ancestry.
Before answering this question, I should answer, Why a second language?
First, I write poetry and through the process of learning another language, I hope to obtain a deeper understanding of my own language. I also have a master’s degree, but not a second language. I met the language requirements for college and grad school simply by showing up to 4 years of high school French.
Secondly, I teach English. Since studying a new language, I can now better relate to my students. I also have a stronger idea of what they need to do in order to achieve their language goals.
Lastly, I believe everyone should have a second language (or more!) – for two reasons. One, the world is becoming increasingly globalized, and two, language-learning is good for the mind.
So why not Spanish or Mandarin? Why Arabic?
I can knowingly say that many of my creative pursuits can be traced back to U2’s Achtung Baby. I was 15 years-old, a critical age, when I first discovered the album. Shot in Morocco, the music video for “Mysterious ways” features a belly dancer. It was that video that first ignited my interest. A few years later, I took a “belly dancing” course at a community college and began to love Middle Eastern music.
Fast forward a dozen years and I quit my cushy admin job and became an ESL instructor at a school where I ended up meeting many students from Saudi Arabia. And the camaraderie of their culture inspired me.
So why Arabic?
Because it’s beautiful.
Edit: Since I wrote this post, I have read a great deal about cultural appropriation, and what I can say is that I am still listening and learning. Also, please forgive my 15 year-old self for exoticizing. To this day, I still have to contend with her from time to time.