Shifting Gears: Arabic to English
Al-Khalil Al-Riyami comes to the University of Minnesota from Oman, the oldest independent state in the Arab world. He attests that the differences between the Twin Cities and his native country are vast. But from difference comes inspiration, possibility, and learning—all things that have come to Al-Khalil through his study of the English language in the Minnesota English Language Program (MELP). We took a moment to ask Al-Khalil a few questions about his background and his experience with MELP.
What is one of the biggest differences between Minnesota and Oman?
The food! The main dish back home is meat, like chicken or fish, with lots of spices and herbs over rice. In Minnesota, I had a hard time finding the spices I was used to. One American food I love is steak on the grill. I eat it three times a week in the summer with A1 Steak Sauce.
The language is also a big, obvious difference between Minnesota and Oman. In Oman, I spoke Arabic. Here, it’s all English.
What made you choose to study at the University of Minnesota?
The U was recommended to me by my adviser at the Embassy in Oman. I asked my dad about the University of Minnesota, and he said he knew three things about it: good education, good transportation system, and bad winters. When I arrived on campus, I didn’t speak any English at all and I got lost a lot. The campus is enormous! But MELP helped me learn and adjust.
Tell us about your experience with MELP? What did you like about it?
At MELP, I had to start learning English at the very beginning, moving through every single course slowly as I picked up the language. English is the language I need in order to live in Minnesota, so it was essential that I learn it. MELP helped me learn and adjust to the culture shock.
What are you studying now at the U?
I’m studying mechanical engineering, and I’ll have a minor in business. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding.
What is the best part about speaking English?
Speaking one common language like English opens doors to new opportunities. I can go to pretty much any country now and speak a language that people understand. That means I’ll have opportunities to travel more, and travel more comfortably.
The hardest part about learning English is forgetting your native tongue for a while so you can learn the new language.