Commencement 2016: Arabic, other languages lead URI senior to potential career in intelligence

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Joseph Korzeb dives into foreign cultures, explores military service

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 11, 2016 — Since before he stepped foot on the University of Rhode Island’s Kingston campus, Joseph Korzeb has been working to change his brain. Not through chemistry or science, but through language and experience.

The native of Ellington, Conn., has traveled the world, speaks three languages, including Arabic, Spanish, English and intends to eventually learn Portuguese and French, as well.

For now, Korzeb is directing most of his energy toward fluency in Arabic, a far different task than learning any of the Romance languages.

“When you’re learning the Romance languages, you’re basing everything off Latin roots, so even if they’re different there’s a level of familiarity already there,” he said. “Learning Arabic, and learning to think in Arabic, really requires you to change your brain from a Latin way of thinking to Afro-Asiatic. It’s not just translation, it’s a mindset.”

Korzeb has immersed himself so fully and successfully into the language that he intends to join the U.S. Navy with an eye toward becoming an intelligence officer, where his Arabic skills would be put to good use. He would be the third child in his family to serve in the U.S. military, behind his brother Peter, who also served in the Navy, and his sister Rachel, a U.S. Navy air crewman.

Korzeb has already met with a recruiter, though he will delay entering the service for a short time to devote more time to intensive study of Arabic abroad. Korzeb earned a Demers Fellowship from the Rhode Island Foundation to help fund further study in Jordan beginning in the fall.

Korzeb said he has had an affinity for language since he was young, thanks in part to the influence of his Lebanese grandparents, who exclusively spoke Arabic. As a high school senior, he found that his Advanced Placement Spanish class, taught by a Panamanian-American teacher, cemented his desire to pursue language as an avenue to a career.

To that end, Korzeb decided he wanted to major in Spanish and political science, giving him a better grasp of foreign cultures through their own words and history. When he arrived at URI, he was immediately able to interact with students from around the globe, while not having to travel very far.

He worked with Taiwanese students, coordinating extracurricular and travel programming, bringing the students around Rhode Island, Boston and New York.

“I was exposed to such a diverse community of classmates here at URI, it really broadened my world view,” he said. “I was exposed to other cultures here and I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about people from all over the world.”

“The University gave me a chance to branch out and study abroad, where I could really immerse myself in other cultures.”

Korzeb spent his junior year at URI studying in Argentina, where he lived with a host mom and spent four months learning about Latin American politics, economy and culture. During that time, he also traveled to Brazil and Uruguay, where he said he was often mistaken for Argentinian.

“I could speak perfectly like an Argentinian when I was greeting people. They’d always ask where I was from, thinking I was from Argentina, which has a distinct dialect,” Korzeb said. “When I went to Brazil and Uruguay, it wasn’t just the people who were diverse, the geography was as well, so it was really cool to experience that. I like trying the local foods, learning people’s history and their politics.”

Korzeb also visited Namibia before the start of his senior year.

When he eventually finishes his service with the U.S. Navy, Korzeb said he may enter law school to focus on international law. And while his post-graduate studies and career will inevitably take him far from the hills of Kingston, Korzeb said the time he spent at URI will always influence his world view.

“I made so many connections with my professors and peers,” he said. “We have this diverse group of students, yet we have so many commonalities. I think that’s true wherever you go, no matter how different it seems.”

Pictured above

Joseph Korzeb, of Ellington, Conn., is turning his love for language into a career path as he prepares to spend the fall studying Arabic in Jordan thanks to a Demers Scholarship from the Rhode Island Foundation. Korzeb intends to enter the U.S. Navy to become an intelligence officer.

Photo by Nora Lewis