Foreigners learning a foreign language

Abeir Soukieh is a poet and writer based in Canberra.  She is an Acquisitions Editor at be:longing and her work can be found at be:longing magazine, Not Very Quiet and the Cordite Poetry Review.

Photo 1 - Foreigners learning a foreign language - A Soukieh.jpgPeppermint – a hybrid mint.  Then again, this may not even be peppermint but some other mint species in the garden.  I’m pretty sure it’s peppermint, though.

I remember clearly the moment I discovered I was both the inquirer and the object of my inquiry.  I was reading a paper on Sovereignty in Greco-Turkish Cyprus that was using postcoloniality as a framework, when a description of postcoloniality came at me so perfectly worded and so perfectly timed as to make Opportunity itself weep tender, tranquil tears:

… postcoloniality is a product of that middle space created by, yet not exclusively belonging to, the imperialist West and its colonized Other.  This neither-nor, hybrid, interstitial condition of postcoloniality prevents it from enjoying the dissident luxury of observing from “offshore.”  Indeed, the postcolonial has no such refuge.[1]

For some reason, until this point, I’d never thought about my hybridity in terms of academics.  I mean, I’d disentangled (post)colonial complexes before, but it had never occurred to me that it could infiltrate this space as well.

I was extremely annoyed that this realisation had taken so long to materialise.  I mean, d-uh.

But then again, I could hardly blame myself.  Having studied in the ‘Western’ tradition, my vocabulary, my modes of thinking, my schools of thought, are all, well, ‘white’.

But I am not.

I walk that vague space between Self and Other that is really neither both nor neither; that, depending on where I am or whom I’m with, my vocabulary shifts such that, in one instance, my notion of self can mean the complete opposite of what it means in the other.

To such an extent that the choices I make are not merely a matter of taste, but of loyalty.

This is not an easy space to traverse.

Whatever decision I make, I’m guilty.

I study something that interests me but is not of ‘relevance’ to me; traitor to my people.  ‘Why study Japanese, though?’  You’re quite Arab.

I study colonialism, discover its atrocities and dare to make mention of its very real and intended consequences; traitor to the crown.  “At some point you’re going to have to stop blaming colonialism,” replied the elderly, white, former peacekeeper for Rwanda.


I have a former lecturer of mine, an academic and resident white woman, inquire as to why I am “still studying” after all these years and then demand flippantly that I “get a job”.

Never mind that I have worked and do work in various occupations, some seemingly more or less ‘legitimate’ than others, in order to fund my ‘studying habit’; from her perspective, the realm of academics would ‘obviously’ be of little relevance to me.

Like I’m wasting everyone’s time or something.  I’ve had my ‘fun’ studying and now it’s for me to do something else.

As though, research for me is just a pastime, not a real-time thing.

In other words, I am not going to be involved seriously with research.

It’s not my place.

It’s for me to be studied, not for me to study.

From a certain point of view.

© Abeir Soukieh, 2019

[1] Agathangelou, Anna, M., and Ling, L.H.M. “Postcolonial Dissidence within Dissident IR: Transforming Master Narratives of Sovereignty in Greco-Turkish Cyprus.” Studies in Political Economy, 54 1 (Fall 1997), 7-38.