Africa in Our Lives: Ryma Azzouz

From a young age, Ryma Azzouz knew she wanted to understand the world beyond the borders of her home country, Algeria. Currently, she is serving as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant of Arabic at UW-Madison. She shares why she loves teaching, her interest in the parallels between African American and Algerian literature, and the best piece of advice she’s ever received.

Field of study: African American Literature
Hometown: Algiers, Algeria

“What inspired my interest in African American literature is its closeness to the Algerian literature and how it also speaks about oppression by another organized group, called white supremacy in the US and the French colonizer in Algeria.” -R. Azzouz (Submitted photo)

What brought you to Madison?

I have the honor to be in Madison as an Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) of Arabic. I assist the teachers of Arabic at the department of African Cultural Studies, I familiarize American students with the Algerian dialects and culture and I am learning more about the American culture as well.

What is your favorite activity to do in Madison?

I have two activities that are dear to me in Madison: being in class with students and helping them overcome their challenges with Arabic, as a language and as different dialects and cultures, and being outside and going to the movie theater watching American movies amidst an American audience. About the second activity, the first time I went to an American movie theater, it was at Union South. I was sitting in my chair, in that big room, with that big, gigantic screen in front of me and hearing American English all around me, as the spectators were patiently and excitingly waiting for the lights to be off and the movie to start. When the lights were finally off, the room became finally dark, but not completely dark since there were very smartly placed little tiny lights parallel to the seats placed on the exterior of the different rows. So, the room was dark and the screen suddenly enlightened with the actions of the movie “Baby Driver.” The sound came from everywhere in the room: right, left, front, back, pulling you with all your senses into the action of the movie. It was amazing and will definitely remain a memorable moment for me, because I was experiencing an American movie with American spectators. I have always experienced that with Algerian spectators and was always wondering, while watching “Star Wars”, what kind of people were producing these movies I was watching with my fellow Algerian spectators. And now being miles away from home and with these people I was thinking about, back in Algeria, is just an extraordinary experience to me.

What inspired you to apply to be a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA)?

What inspired me is my avidity for experiencing the world in its diversity. Since I was a kid, I have always been intrigued by the world and I knew there was so much to discover and that not everywhere is the same as in Algeria. I had books about the Kingdoms of China, the jungles of the Amazon forest in Latin America, the cultures of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Indians of America, the inventions of Europe. I knew growing up that the US is one country were an interesting blend of cultures happened and I wanted to experience that. The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program offered me the best academic and professional context within which I can explore my avidity for the diversity of the world, by helping American students explore theirs in their study of Arabic. I knew these students are experiencing the same urge as me, for scrutinizing the world and understanding it, beyond the borders of our own cultures and languages.

Why do you think students should study Arabic?

In my eyes, it is very necessary to study any language. It helps you understand the world and it helps you communicate with the world. Arabic is so rich in its semantic and philosophical potential! Learning Arabic might help American students express a range of ideas and emotions in a completely different way. It might broaden and enrich their vision of everything in their lives. They might be agents of a fresh new Arabic expression, which is really cool.

What have you learned about yourself or about Algeria from teaching to an American audience?

I have learned that I love practicing languages with people. I love being in situations where I am or other people are experiencing new sounds and languages. I love hearing either Algerian voices or American voices coming out and sounding differently. In other words, I learned about myself my ability of linguistic and cultural flexibility. This flexibility comes from the huge respect I have for human diversity around the world. I believe that the human race can only reach its sacredness through its diversity.

What inspired your interest in African American literature?

What inspired my interest in African American literature is its closeness to the Algerian literature and how it also speaks about oppression by another organized group, called white supremacy in the US and the French colonizer in Algeria. I was touched when I read that African American authors of the fifties, I think, and while they were living in Paris, they noticed and said how Algerians were the Negroes of the French in Paris and everywhere else. That gave me a sense of a shared agency between African Americans and Algerians.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A piece of advice my dad gave me and his dad gave him: When you reach the bottom and you feel no hope is there for you anymore, that’s when it is exactly the moment to have hope and bounce back.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In five years? I am so hopeful! I do what kids do when they wish for something really dear to them to come true. I shut my eyes really tight until I wrinkle all my face. I fist both my hands together, making them look like one big fist close to my chest and do what we call in Arabic “Duaa,” prayer, and I say: “in five years, I will be, inshaAllah, a writer and researcher.” There is so much I want to talk about! So many ills I want to heal, through my writing.