An Edmond student is being recognized for his language skills and educational achievements this month.
Barrett Shelley, a 2009 Edmond North graduate, is the winner of the 2015 Boren Scholarship and more recently, the U.N.’s Many Languages, One World Contest.
Shelley will be presenting his paper to members of the United Nations General Assembly in Arabic this month.
His journey to learn Arabic began as a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma when Shelley was completing his sociology degree. He said he wanted to step outside of his comfort zone and study something totally new and chose to study Arabic.
Shelley is currently studying at the Arab American Language Institute in Meknes, Morocco. Last summer he studied at the Al-Mashriq Center in Amman, Jordan. His journey to learn Arabic has taken a circuitous route with time off spent studying Spanish in Argentina and Spain for a year.
“I am in a year-long intensive Arabic program. In the program we study Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, Egyptian Arabic and the Formal Arabic. Moroccan dialect is one of the most distant dialects of Arabic from that of native speakers in the Levant and Egypt, so my first week or so here has been filled with quickly trying to learn a somewhat new language,” Shelley said.
Shelley said two of the greatest challenges he has faced in learning Arabic have been learning to speak in dialect and learning to write well.
“With regards to dialect, the formal Arabic language is written and can be searched in dictionaries. However, the many different Arabic dialects are not written, so it is no easy task to pick up the language,” he added.
Barrett noted the most important lesson that Arabic has taught him is to persist and push forward.
He said he worked with native speakers to learn techniques and most importantly, he reads. As he reads he writes down new phrases that is found in a word document on his computer.
“I would then incorporate these phrases, when appropriate, into my own writing to make it richer and to add some flavor. To be honest, while my writing has improved, it still has a long way to go, and this is a common theme with language. When you break one barrier or reach a certain goal, you probably have already set your sights on a new one that seems much harder to obtain than the one you previously achieved,” Shelley said.
Shelley’s advice for students who are beginning to learn a language, “Basically, the two best tips I can give for learning language is persistence and a short memory. Forget the moment where you messed up and embarrassed yourself, it’s not important. Be persistent, don’t give up. Arabic is one of the most challenging languages to learn, so keep attacking your weaknesses, and they will become your strengths.”
Of Shelley’s most recent awards, the Boren Award funds students who are studying what the state department deems as critical languages, Shelley said.
“The award is very competitive ... and amounts to $20,000,” Shelley said.
Upon completion, Shelley will be required to spend one year working for the federal government in an area of national security.
For the Many Languages, One World Contest, Shelley submitted an essay just shy of 2,000 words on gender equality in the Middle East.
From a pool of more than 1,200 entrants, 70 students from 42 countries representing 60 universities have been selected as winners of the Many Languages, One World international essay contest. The contest is organized by ELS Educational Services Inc. and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI).
The official languages of the United Nations are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, and the student may not present their essay in their first language or a language studied in high school.
The students have been invited to attend the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., from July 20-26. The event culminates in a trip to speak at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City where Shelley will be speaking before the United Nations on Friday.
Shelley is currently studying for the LSAT, which he plans on taking in Morocco in October. He said he would like to work in the field of human rights or some form of international law where he will be able to use his language skills.
Students who participated in the contest are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as Doctoral candidates. Winners attend prestigious international universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), Yonsei University (South Korea), and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (France). Their fields of study include art, human rights, medicine, engineering, law, business management, communications, international relations, and linguistics. 2015 marks the second year of the Many Languages, One World Essay Contest and Global Youth Forum. The contest has been covered by many international media outlets and is prominent on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. For more information, visit ManyLanguagesOneWorld.ELS.edu.
While attending Edmond North High School, Shelley was in Julie Anderson’s Advanced Placement Language class.
“I’ve never forgotten Barrett’s special spirit and consider him one of my all-time favorite students. Barrett stood out in this group because of his unique, creative and open-minded approach to issues. He was invaluable to me because of his natural leadership skills.
“He was truly admired by his classmates, and not just because he was a successful athlete or attractive young man. It was his personality that seemed to draw people to him,” Anderson said. “He is warm, engaging and has a great sense of humor.”
With a maturity beyond his years, Anderson said Shelley wasn’t afraid to go against the crowd with his opinions, and he had a tendency to be a kind of peace keeper when his classmates would get heated during class discussions.
“He is obviously an excellent writer and communicator, so when he did speak up, everyone listened,” Anderson said.
Shelley said he will never forget the look on his college adviser’s face when he said he wanted to take Arabic.
“I could sense her lack of faith in my ability or drive to successfully complete an introductory course. Nevertheless, I enrolled and fell in love with the language,” Shelley said.
OU professor Mohammad Al-Masri has known Shelley for almost three years.
Al-Masri said when Shelley first took an Arabic class with him, Shelley did not come to the top.
“I found him to be an average student. Then he decided to delay his graduation and apply for an Arabic language major. In the summer of 2014, he took a trip to Jordan where he studied for two months. Barrett was the top student in the summer program.
“Coming back from the summer program, Barrett made the biggest stride forward I have seen for a student, given the time. He made it to top of his class and it was obvious that Arabic language and culture was becoming his passion,” Al-Masri said.
Al-Masri then recruited Shelley as a program assistant. In that capacity Shelley helped in running the program.
“I was delighted to hear he won a writing contest for the United Nations. This is the second OU student winning this very distinguished, highly competitive award,” Al-Masri said.
“With all of this under his belt, I can foresee Barrett is up to a wonderful future. He still has much to give to his country and to humanity at large. As the program director, I cannot be more proud!”
Barrett is the son of Janet Shelley-Raymer and Kyle Shelley.
The Many Languages One World Contest has been covered by many international media outlets and is prominent on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.