Doron Shapir '18, MA'19

A Toolkit of Languages

One of Doron Shapir's proudest moments occurred when he delivered a lecture in Arabic about the pro-peace work he had done in the Israeli army.

shapir presenting lecture in front of classroom screen

This experience of discussing a highly charged political topic with deeply personal implications as a nonnative speaker left a profound impression on him.

"Whenever you can accomplish that in another language," Shapir said, "it should be a proud moment."

Shapir has accumulated an admirable list of accomplishments in which he can take pride. Currently a graduate student in international economics and finance at the International Business School, he completed his bachelor's degree at Brandeis, during which time he studied Chinese, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Originally from Haifa, Israel, Shapir first encountered a language different from his own on the streets of his hometown. When he would travel by bus or venture into other neighborhoods, he would hear Arabic in addition to Hebrew.

Languages have been essential to Shapir because of his interest in politics and diplomacy, a domain in which he believes multilingualism is critical. As a teenager in Israel, he became fascinated by the 2008 U.S. presidential election, and he wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the topics under discussion during the campaign. Although he already knew some English, he lacked the vocabulary needed to understand these discussions.

Shapir developed his own path for learning languages that bridged his interest in global politics and language. He would wake up every day at 5 a.m., print copies of speeches and articles, highlight new vocabulary words, create online flashcards and practice English. Over time, his vocabulary grew and made him feel more capable of expressing complex thoughts in English.

When he first came to the United States, he maintained the practice, which had become an essential part of his experience with learning other languages. Citing his own motivation to get up before dawn to study English, he emphatically endorses the practice of learning languages by linking them to an overwhelming passion, regardless of the discipline, and he wishes students could develop their own courses of language study around topics of their choosing.

In Shapir's experience, the language classroom has been a space for a great transformation. Comparing the language courses he took at Brandeis to other classes, Shapir said that his study of languages had given him a sense of identity: "There is something about learning a language — its difficulty, its intensiveness — that gives you something to feel related to; a sense of belonging," he said. "You become a part of a team with your classmates and professor with a goal of improving together."

Shapir appreciates that Brandeis offers courses in a variety of languages without creating obstacles for students taking multiple languages during a semester. Participating in so many language courses made him initially doubt his abilities and skills, but soon his self-doubt was replaced by a strong belief in himself and in his capacity to learn. Shapir said that learning a language had affirmed for him that "life is tough, but you can do it."

Although seemingly at a kind of crossroads — in his mid-20s, his military service completed, his second degree nearly finished — Shapir's proficiency in multiple languages has opened up a variety of options for him, offering him possibilities for work, study or travel all over the world, and thereby lessening the pressure to simply find a job as soon as possible. The realms of diplomacy and Israeli politics have continued to intrigue him and may offer him a way to expand his ability to build global links:

"Once you know six out of the seven official U.N. languages, you can try to become a positive agent and initiate connections between your country and the world," he said.

This interview was conducted in 2018-19 by Diana Filar, PhD'21.