Nicholas Wade’s future changed unexpectedly when he met a Foreign Service Officer at a career fair during his freshman year of high school. She described to him the life and work of a Foreign Service Officer; he immediately became interested in the career. When he asked what languages would be most important to learn, he was told that Arabic was in high demand. The officer also told him about the NSLI-Y scholarship to study less commonly taught languages. Because of that conversation, he began studying Arabic on his own after school. This past summer, he participated in the NSLI-Y Arabic program in Morocco.
Upon arrival in Morocco, one of the biggest challenges for Nick was the language barrier. Prior to NSLI-Y, he had only studied Arabic on his own. Being suddenly immersed in the language was difficult. At first, he struggled to hold simple conversations; however, this did not keep him from trying. Nick boldly took every opportunity he had to engage with locals and practice the language he was learning in the classroom. He had the following philosophy: “I’m in Morocco right now. This is my first time in the country and you know what, I’m going to use this experience to its fullest. I know I want to become fluent, so I want to take a huge bite and see if I can chew it.” Sometimes he would make mistakes or pronounce words incorrectly. Some people would look at him strangely or walk away, but most were helpful and encouraging. Nick even found ways to lighten the mood during these moments by using exaggerated hand gestures to bring a smile to their faces and draw them into the conversation. He would also write down difficult words or phrases.
The language barrier was two-fold though, and just as Nick was becoming more adept at Modern Standard Arabic from his classroom studies, he was learning that the local dialect was different. The more he spoke with locals, the more he learned the dialect, Darija. The more he could converse in the local dialect, the more comfortable and open the people became with him. A very significant experience came for Nick later on in the program. He was searching for a place to buy a phone charger and had become lost. He asked an older man on a bench for directions and the man was shocked at how well he spoke Arabic. He asked him if he was American, and Nick said that he was. The man then gave him a huge hug and said, “Now you’re Moroccan!” Nick felt that he was finally being welcomed into the culture and that his hard work studying had paid off.
Nick also took on the challenge of being a citizen ambassador. He learned that some Moroccans had a stereotypical view of Americans as tourists. “People expect Americans to be loud and not respect their culture and not care about their language.” Because he was there for a longer period of time making an effort to learn and speak their language, he was able to show that Americans can be respectful and deeply interested in their culture and people. His interactions also helped him to see that Moroccans were friendly people with the same hopes and fears as he had, which helped him realize that some of the stereotypes he had encountered in the U.S. were not true either. Because he and his fellow participants were teens, they were able to connect especially well with the Moroccan youth and to exchange favorite music and other pop culture. As an African American, Nick also learned that there was some local tension with Senegalese people, as he was sometimes mistaken for being Senegalese. He learned that he could overcome this by simply explaining that he was American or jokingly introducing himself as Obama. His presence and example were daily demonstrations of the diversity and friendliness of the American people.
Nick says that the some of the most rewarding elements of his time abroad were learning Arabic and the relationships he formed with the Moroccan people and his fellow NSLI-Y participants. The experience and his friends opened his mind to a whole new world of possibilities and goals for his life. He is currently beginning his senior year of high school and has plans to continue to pursue Arabic to fluency. He says that before NSLI-Y, he wasn’t sure what diplomacy was; he now knows it is the path he wants to pursue either through the government or through starting his own NGO. He sees a special need for a nonprofit to support people of African descent in Morocco and the Middle East.
Originally published on October 20th, 2016.
Nicholas Wade was recently accepted to Yale University along with his three quadruplet brothers. He will begin classes in the fall of 2017. He plans to study Global Affairs and Economics with minors in Arabic, French and Spanish.
He was awarded the Dr. Masood Scholarship, a local scholarship for interfaith and intercultural accomplishment, and was named a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar, which provides funding as well as mentorship and internship opportunities. His NSLI-Y experience was a major part of his application materials.
He is currently interning in NYC at a nonprofit called the Future Project, which works to fund the “passion projects” of high school students across the country. His other activities include involvement with the Council on American Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Cincinnati Branch and working with local refugee centers. He also served as a Pre-departure Orientation Leader for one of the 2017-18 Morocco summer NSLI-Y groups.1