Fatimah Sultan loves languages.
She is fluent in English and Tigrinya (the native language of Eritrea), with additional experience in Arabic and French. In her senior year in high school, she undertook learning Korean on her own as an offshoot of her previous study of Japanese. “I’ve always had an interest in East Asian languages,” she explained. “I just thought they were beautiful, just how they sound. But I also found that the way they’re so grammatically different and how the linguistics of those languages vary vastly from the ones I already know; that intrigue made me want to learn them.”
Driven by her interest and abilities, the Mason freshman hopes to build a career around diverse languages and cultures. She is working towards a major in foreign languages with a concentration in Korean and a minor in conflict analysis and resolution, as a key to opening doors to that future. “When I found out that they were providing a Korean major [at Mason] I wanted to just grab that opportunity right away,” she said.
She also plans to work a concentration in Arabic into her degree. “I already have a background in Arabic; it’s one of the languages that I’ve grown up hearing and speaking. I wanted to continue to pursue that because I know that both Arabic and Korean are critical languages for the U.S. government.”
Sultan has leapt into her studies, currently spending her second semester as a Mason student at the university’s Songdo, Korea, campus through Mason’s Global Gateway program and already considering where her education may take her. “I've been taking my time and exploring different routes and different paths to go down as I'm learning more and more about different opportunities,” she said. “But I know right now for sure: I do want to work in South Korea and I want to live there for at least a few years.” She noted opportunities to work with the South Korean government as a translator or interpreter, as well as the possibility of teaching through the TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) or EPIK (English Program in Korea) programs.
Sultan stressed the wide variety of opportunities that exist with a Korean language concentration, particularly with the availability of Mason’s Songdo campus. “You can go through a path towards education or business or really anything within this program,” she said. “But especially at Mason with their campus in Korea, you really get that kind of global feel and kind of a global education.”
Mason’s catalogue highlights the versatility of the concentration. With its emphasis on language proficiency and deep understanding of South Korean and North Korean society and culture, the course of study prepares students to work in the fields of translation, international relations, transnational enterprises, the cultural industry, or for teaching careers in Korea or in the United States.
For Sultan, however, the learning has not ended in the classroom. “The Korean program has an annual event called the Korean Learners Short Film Festival… as part of my Korean 110 class, the final assignment is a short film project. You work with your group for basically the entire semester, making a script and acting it out and filming it and editing it and then presenting it at the film festival.”
Sultan was proud that her team’s film won first place at the festival. “Just being a freshman and having the opportunity and winning that award, it really motivated me and made me feel like, okay, wait, I can really do this!”
She also spoke enthusiastically about a language table program where a faculty member meets with students working on Korean majors and minors for conversation practice. “It was nice to meet the other students and we all bonded through the program, and I feel like I was improving as well,” she said.
Overall, though, it is the support of the program’s faculty that has made a real difference for her. “They've constantly been giving me information about opportunities that I can take up, and scholarship opportunities… I can tell that the professors in this program are really genuinely caring for the students. And I feel like I'm in this kind of family now.”
January 30, 2020