Elijah Kennard, 2020 Incoming Freshman Awardee Talks About Studying Arabic At Yale University

Elijah Kennard Photo


Elijah Kennard




AHS of Utah

           Elijah was an AHS member for 3 years while studying Arabic at West High School in Salt Lake City. Elijah received the 2020 IFA for his dedication to learning Arabic. You can learn more about his experience by reading below.

         Growing up I was not introduced to many different cultures. It is not that my parents were not open to meeting new people, it was just that we didn’t have access to many based on the communities that we were a part of. I wasn’t able to travel abroad, and my knowledge of geography was severely lacking until I started high school. Picking my first classes, I saw Arabic listed and, knowing nothing of the language, culture, or even where it was spoken, I joined the class. I quickly learned the alphabet and basic sentence structure and as I started to progress I became enthralled with the beauty of it. After my first year I knew this language would be able to impact my life and I signed up for a summer program called STARTALK.

            After STARTALK and another half year of study, I met the requirements to join the Arabic Honor Society at my high school. In that program, I was able to learn more about the language and community that was growing closer to my heart. From making baklava to hearing my Arabic teacher tell us fascinating stories about growing up in Morocco, the more I learned about the stories behind the language, the more I loved the Arabic culture. That summer I studied Arabic at STARTALK again, this time with a bigger lens of curiosity and wonder. There I was able to eat famous dishes and learn more about the shamy dialect as well as the leventine area, focusing on Palestine, Syria, and Jordan. My interest in Arabic thrived as I gained a better understanding of its history and its roots. I continued my study in high school the following year and joined my high school’s Model Arab League, where under my representation of Libya, I was able to discover a deeper understanding of Middle Eastern politics and international relations.

            The summer of my Junior year, I received the NSLI-y scholarship, in part because of my membership in the Aarbic Honor Society and my experiences with it. With the scholarship, I was able to study Arabic while living with a host family in Jordan. Not only did my host family take me in and treat me as though I was their own, they gave me a wonderful insight into what life in the Middle East looks like. They showed me downtown Amman and how to haggle. They showed me Mansef and one of my favorite dishes; Musakhan. But most of all, they showed me kindness. Arabic has helped expand my mind and meet some of the most amazing people. I still am reaping the benefits of it to this day, as I work toward a career that will utilize my Arabic skills.

            Thanks to the Arabic Honor Society and QFI, I have been able to take part in some amazing opportunities. My senior year of high school my Arabic debate team won a national Arabic debate competition, and we were invited to Qatar to participate in the international Qatar Debate competition. Even though we were not able to attend due to the rising Covid-19 pandemic, the opportunity to compete was enough to help my team learn more about the controversial topics of the debate.

            My previous Arabic classes and experiences helped me go into college with an open mindset towards ideas and cultures different than mine. Arabic helped expand my mind and look at what I was learning with a new global perspective. Arabic has helped guide me towards a supportive community wherever I travel. With the Incoming Freshman Award, I am able to attend my dream college, Yale University, where I am able to continue learning Arabic as well as chemistry and psychology. This award has helped fund my education and has given me the opportunity to further my academic career with a global mindset.

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