Faculty Spotlight: Fouad Oujani, Arabic Class

Fouad Oujani is a man of many languages. Fluent in four unique tongues and in another three dialects, this Arabic professor truly has a passion for different cultures.

Oujani is currently proficient in Spanish, English, French, and four different Arabic dialects including Maghribi, Egyptian, Levantine and the Gulf Arabic. Additionally, he is also fairly familiar with Russian.

From the beginning, it was clear that Oujani’s life was to be shaped by multiple cultures.The Arabic professor grew up over 4,000 miles away in Morocco, where French influence at the turn of the 20th century has made French the second official language in the Arab country. From early childhood, Oujani has been bilingual, speaking Arabic in casual conversations and switching to French when it was necessary. “We try to speak only in Arabic,” explained Oujani. “However, French is still the primary language in science and engineering, but we want to preserve the Arabic language and the Arabic culture, so we try to speak only in Arabic.”

The geographic location of the country of Morocco makes the country a hub for different cultures and languages. Located on the northern tip of Africa at the Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco is influenced by Arab, Amazigh, African, Roman, Vandal and Byzantine cultures. With historical roots in Amazigh and Arabic and a French presence in the early 1900s, the nation is naturally trilingual. And with the close proximity to Spain, Spanish was soon brought into the mix as well.

With an education structure similar to western civilization, Oujani post graduated from the University of Mohammed V where he cultivated his love for Arabic and Spanish culture and linguistics.

But the life of Oujani took an unexpected turn. With plans to move to Spain and continue studying comparative literature, his friend soon offered him another option.

Every year, the US offers visas to thousands of people through the US Lottery Visa.

Knowing this, Oujani’s friend encouraged him to enter the sweepstakes. In 2000, Oujani did just that, and when a few thousand names were chosen, Oujani’s was among them.

The future Arabic professor decided to put his Spanish trip on hold and packed his bags and headed for New York. But the Big Apple did not appeal to Oujani, who “just didn’t really like New York too much”, and he soon headed west to Colorado.

As for his road to becoming a professor, Oujani said with a smile, “Most of the good things happen by coincidence.” When reading in a library one day, a librarian caught wind of Oujani’s linguistic expertise and suggested that he give teaching a shot. He did, and the rest just, well, happened.

Over 4,000 miles away from home in yet another culture, Oujani still loves his job. “I have a passion for teaching,” he says. “I have a passion and a respect for it. And I enjoy the pleasure you get when you teach. You can’t really describe it, but there is a joy after each class. You learn from the students’ perspective and you discover new dimensions of the language.”

Mines is not the first school in which Oujani has taught Arabic, as he has spent time at various community colleges and schools around the Denver area. But after travelling the world, he truly enjoys staying in Colorado, and relishes the opportunity to brush up on his Arabic. “Coming here was definitely an advantage. I have met so many different Arabic speakers from different parts of the Arab world here that I hadn’t met in other places. It is an advantage because you come here and you can practice other dialects.”

Oujani may be on the other side of the world from where he grew up, but there is no doubt that his upbringing and culture have made the journey with him. Aside from teaching, Oujani offers his language skills in a variety of ways, as he performs localization and translation services through his company, Oujani International LLC. His talents cover an incredible range of fields, as the Arabic professor has spent time doing voice-overs, commercials, interpreting, and translations for essentially any legal document ranging from medical to IT.

Over the years, his travels have taken him all over the world, to countries throughout North Africa, like Egypt and Tunisia, to France and Spain, to Germany and even to Russia, where he made a journey “to learn a different alphabet, so that I know what my students are going through when I teach them Arabic.”

It is this dedication and passion that has made Oujani good at what he does. There is no doubt that this person, who most likely envisioned himself in Spain instead of the United States so many years ago, is a wonderful component of the Liberal Arts and International Studies department at Mines.

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