Updated: Jan 7
You know how sometimes you feel like life is throwing you in all sorts of directions that seem random to you, and then one day -many years later- it all clicks together and fits perfectly? That's exactly what happened.
First, there was growing up in a family that spoke three languages natively. While my father's side of the family were all French-educated and spoke the language regularly, my mom was British-educated and so were my brother and I. These two languages, along with the native Egyptian Arabic made up our family conversations.
We were not a unique family. Our entire social circle related to languages similarly, and so growing up, we never really needed to separate the languages. Any word from any of these three languages could complete the sentence and be widely understood.
It wasn't until I left Egypt to start my life in the United States that I first needed to separate these languages. This was a difficult exercise. Separating English from the other languages was felt like learning a foreign language. I was struggling to find the right word all the time, even though I grew up with English all around me. It was a learning curve, but I figured it out.
Then, I got married to an Italian man whose family speaks no English. Because we wanted to find a way to connect, we opened ourselves up to gestures, drawings, simpler words, a basic understanding of Italian and some French, but most importantly, a genuine interest in creating some sort of a communication channel.
Funny that the more we were able to communicate, the more we discovered how similar we were. Our values, interests, and even sense of humor. The bridge we built was not of worlds far apart. After all Egypt and Italy share a lot of history, and also French and Italian are not that far apart.
Somewhere along the way, I started teaching. Fascinated by how children learn and develop, and coupling that with how I connect with my inlaws, the concept of feeding curiosity took hold of me. I couldn't stop learning about how children learn.
Furthermore, when I was pregnant, my mother-in-law asked which languages we were going to teach the baby. To me, raised in a multilingual home, there was no question about immersing her in all four languages. I didn't even stop to think about it until my mother-in-law asked. But, her question got me curious. So I took a deep dive into first language acquisition to learn how babies learn that very first language, and the effects of learning multiple languages on a baby's brain.
I was knee-deep in this research when my daughter was born. Naturally, I began applying some of my learning and watching her development. Watching a baby learn their first language is truly a gift.
My only frustration in these first months of bonding was that Arabic resources were very hard to come by, especially books. Even when I did find some they were in classical Arabic, which is not used as a spoken language. I had to translate in a sense, which took some of the pleasure away for sure.
To fill this gap, I started writing my own books in Egyptian dialect and reading those to her. Friends and family liked the idea and soon enough, my little frustration turned into a publishing company with books sold worldwide.
I was very happy to enrich the lives of so many families, but I needed to do more. I started Mommy&Me classes to teach parents how to weave Arabic into their everyday activities and I also taught Arabic at a Waldorf inspired school, where languages are taught by immersion. At this point, I was working both with parents and in classrooms and so I was witnessing the entire learning cycle.
A few years later, I found an opportunity to support refugee students at the middle and high school levels. An interesting shift from childhood to adolescence, from teaching Arabic to teaching English, and from coaching parents to coaching teachers.
Both experiences were extremely informative to me. Sure, they were different in many ways, they were also very similar.
The following school year I was hired to teach math and science to newcomer students at the eighth-grade level. Imagine a classroom full of students who don't speak your language or each other's languages. They have had different experiences with schooling and some were never schooled.
I found myself particularly well prepared for this job, though. Pulling from my experience gesturing with my inlaws, from my knowledge a deep understanding of how language is learned and how learning develops, and several years' work with young children on project-based and immersion-based learning. It all worked together.
While I can not take credit for teaching these students language - this was the tremendous work of a team of champions at that school, I did change both science and math curricula to almost 100% project and discussion-based. My classroom was bubbling with activity. By the end of the school year, these students were able to debate science topics in English on a weekly basis.
Throughout the years, my work with parents never stopped. A growing number of parents both friends and friends of friends would still connect with me for parenting advice. To be honest, I have a soft spot for coaching parents and I am always happy to help. But it wasn't until COVID hit and schools closed for the foreseeable future that I seriously considered starting a parent coaching practice.
Parents have been superheroes this year between their work responsibilities, taking on teaching responsibilities, handling the stress and uncertainty, and doing it all in isolation with minimal to no support. At some point I felt that this is exactly where I need to be; supporting parents.
And that's when all of my random experiences with parents, teachers, students, languages, and raising my own daughter came together, clicked, and fell beautifully in place.
This is what I am meant to be doing right now, and I am so excited to turn that "open for business" sign on, even if virtually.