Relearning one’s culture


Betoul Ajin speaks about growing up bilingual in the American public school system. Up through eighth grade, Ajin didn’t fully embrace her culture, but now she feels great about who she is as an Arab Muslim.

Growing up speaking two languages was normal for Betoul Ajin, but it wasn’t normal in the eyes of the English speaking public schools.

Since Arabic was Ajin’s first language — and English was her second — she was placed in ELA learning classes until fifth grade. Also in those ELA classes, she was the only student who actually knew English.

“It was hard to catch up to the students in my class,” Ajin said. “During a regular english class, I would be taken out and would have to read the really easy books that weren’t challenging me enough.”

Ajin felt like she would never have been able to catch up to the reading levels of her peers. And she believed that the reason she could never catch up is because she was never challenged in her ELA class.

“I wasn’t challenged enough as a kid,” Ajin said. “ Coming into middle school and even high school, I was below the average reading score. I had to work twice as hard to catch up to everyone else.”

Through the years of ELA classes and constantly speaking English, Ajin lost her fluidity in Arabic. In these moments she became somewhat ashamed of her Arab nationality. People would make fun of her parents accents, and she thought people thought she was dumb for having a language other than English being her first.

Now, Ajin hopes to relearn her lost portion of Arabic. She speaks Arabic with her grandparents, with other Arab families while working at Chuck E. Cheese and will soon begin Arabic classes.

This summer, Ajin is also revisiting several Arab countries that she has been to when she was little to learn more about and embrace her Muslim Arab culture to a greater extent.

“I felt so bad that I was ashamed of it [her culture] for so long,” Ajin said. “I realized that I just love it so much. It’s great not being like everyone else.”