Just a few years ago, studying languages used to be a pathway to reading original works of foreign authors or a way to jumpstart a teaching career. Languages are also of course useful for travel, allowing those speaking multiple languages to have an easier time abroad when ordering food or asking for directions. Today, linguistics falls under communication – a key skill for those in a variety of fields, including IT. It is also a way to better understand foreign cultures or even explain international conflicts. To learn more about careers at the crossroads of languages and IT, we sat down with Arzu Jaeed, an Azerbaijani Localization Student in Monterrey and the brains behind HerStory.az. Jaeed spoke to us about what makes Californians special, how to propel the women of tomorrow by remembering the accomplishments of women in the past, about current events, and finally, what it means to be an internally displaced person.
Arzu, please tell us about yourself. I am originally from Karabakh in Azerbaijan. My family became internally displaced persons as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia in the 1990s, and I grew up in Moscow. I moved to CA, to San Francisco two years ago. Since then, I have been teaching Russian at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. I am also pursuing a second Master’s degree in Localization Management.
What is Localization Management? What kind of roles will this program prepare you for?
Localization is the process of adapting the content related to an idea, service, or product to the language and culture of a specific market or region. My classmates and I are a fun mix of language and IT geeks. We all speak a bunch of languages and know how to fix bugs in apps and videos. Localization Management is for those interested in working at the intersection of language, culture, business, and technology. The goal is to get a localization program manager role or become language lead at tech firms like Netflix, Google, and Salesforce after graduation.
How did you end up in the US, and specifically in California?
I moved to the US without any plan. It was a miracle I got a visa. It was an unexpected journey. I immediately connected to Azerbaijani diaspora after I arrived and tried to understand what the American dream was all about and if I really wanted to pursue it. First, I was thinking about getting a PhD, but then learned about the localization field, and was inspired. I love technology, but have a linguistics background, so I was hesitant at first. Then I decided to go for it, I applied and got in.
What do you like about living in CA?
Definitely people. I love Californians and how chill they are. I love their mindset. And the food is amazing. The best avocados I’ve ever had (laughs). A friend of mine told me that there is no gravity in California – that’s why everyone is so relaxed. And I believe that. In San Francisco, you feel like you are a part of something big, and it inspires you. You walk around and see huge skyscrapers, tech companies, start-ups and you feel that this is the place you want to be. Your only purpose is to create, innovate, and change the world for the better. And I feel this inspiration all the time when I am here.
Any culture shock in the US?
There was only one disappointment. I grew up singing songs about California, from California Dreamin’ to California Girls and the image that developed in my head was that it is a really warm and sunny place, with beaches everywhere. So I packed a suitcase full of summer clothes – bathing suits, sundresses, flip flops. Imagine my shock when I arrived in San Francisco in March and it was really cold and rainy. But as Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter he ever spent was summer in California.”
What do people in CA ask you about? Are there any stereotypes that you have had to break? I have had people raise their voice at me and speak really slowly, enunciating every word because I guess they want me to understand what they are saying. It is so funny because I am fine, I understand everything they say, I just have an accent. People often ask me about Azerbaijan. For them, it’s an exotic place. And I am happy to tell them about my country. I love cooking and often share dishes as a way to share a taste of Azerbaijan.
Tell us about your project Herstory.az. What are the main things the world should know about it, why have you undertaken this?
I run an Instagram account highlighting prominent Azerbaijani women and I am currently working on the website for the project. In the US, we have women’s empowerment. There is a lot of focus on gender and equality. It is so wonderful when women receive support, when they support each other. So many wonderful stories in Azerbaijan about remarkable women. But no one spotlights these stories. There are so many firsts that we don’t celebrate in Azerbaijan. Becoming the first teacher, the first female composer, or the first female pilot is huge. We should know these names. For instance, Azerbaijan was the second country in the world to give women the right to vote. It is so important to me to share these stories, this history. I really want to impact the women of tomorrow by sharing the stories of yesterday. I think we have a moral duty to give more credit and opportunities to women, to modernize our society.
What about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh these days? Do people ask about it, and what do you tell them? People definitely ask me about the current conflict, and want to hear my opinion. I stick to facts when I talk about the conflict with foreigners, and do my best to not get emotional. I tell them that there is a lot of misinformation in the media about it, especially when it comes to ignoring the fact that Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory legally. People seem to not know that fact.
Conflict resolution is an activity articulated and conducted in forms that vary across cultures. Do you believe language or culture are the main reasons behind the inability to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue?
Of course, language and culture play a role. The language is very different in these two countries. But there are some overlaps. For instance, one of the most commonly used words in Armenian language is jan, which is a part of the word Azerbaijan, the name of my country and it means “soul.” It also means “dear” when you refer to someone. The biggest divisive cultural issue is that while Azerbaijan is a multicultural and multiethnic country, Armenia is predominantly Armenian. I feel that Armenians don’t see how other nations can live side by side without questioning each other’s language or ethnicity. This is why the Armenian side has been branding this conflict as the Christian world against the Muslim one. But the Karabakh conflict has never been about religion. Focusing on Azerbaijan as a Muslim country is wrong because there are 10,000 Jews living in Azerbaijan, 30,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan, lots of Christians – both Catholic and Orthodox. Seeing Azerbaijan through the religious lens makes no sense.
What is it like to be an internally displaced family ?
It is the same as when you grow up without grandparents and your whole life you feel like something is missing. Maybe it’s not the best analogy, but I’ve been feeling all my life like something is missing. I grew up with memories of happy young people chilling in Shusha, all around Karabakh, swimming in ice-cold rivers. I have this happy image of Karabakh in my head. I just want to go back home, you know. It’s a home that was forcibly taken away from us and I want to go back.
What can Americans do to support your country’s rights to its own land?
The United States has been supportive of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. But what the US and other countries can do in my opinion is not get involved. Leave the conflict to us. Nobody really knows our story, nobody wants to go into the tiniest details. Adding fuel to the fire does not help at all. What I would say is, please don’t intervene in the bilateral relationship of the two countries.