Ryan Twaddle knew he wanted to be a dentist and serve Arabic and Spanish-speaking immigrants in his community near Chicago.
After applying for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, Ryan arrived in Morocco for a summer program. Little did he know his exchange experience would expand his dental career dreams and demonstrate the usefulness of critical languages in many careers.
"I thought I was going to Morocco to learn Arabic, but the NSLI-Y program changed me as a person as well as my dream in life," says Ryan. "Shadowing a Moroccan dentist showed me that so many more people in the world need dental help."
Coincidentally, there happened to be a dental office across the street from Ryan's host family's home in Morocco. Ryan passed the office many times before summoning the courage to use his newly acquired Arabic skills and go in and introduce himself.
"I still laugh at myself when I think back to the first time I walked into the office," says Ryan. "I thought I would be meeting an office full of males, but in walked a female dentist who warmly greeted me. I met her two female staffers and she started showing me how she worked. She knew all of her patients and always made conversation to distract them from any discomfort. We set up a schedule for me to "shadow" her and at the end of each day, we would speak in Arabic to practice my vocabulary and then I would explain some dental procedures using English, which she spoke fairly well, so that we both benefitted from the experience."
According to Ryan, dentistry is practiced in much the same way in Morocco as it is in the United States. "And yes, the tooth fairy visits Morocco too," he adds.
Ryan is now enrolled in the dental program at Marquette University and, as a direct result of his NSLI-Y experience, has decided he wants to start a global dental organization to provide oral care and education to those in need around the world. "I'd like to help create an organization called "Countries without Cavities," says Ryan.
"If I had a do-over in Morocco, the only thing I would change is to walk into the dental office sooner," reflects Ryan. "I was afraid to take the initial step. You are in a foreign country and you might only do it once in your life, so take every opportunity to get involved with your host family, socialize with the faculty at your school, and volunteer in the community."