To Tamara Anaie, whose family fled an anti-Christian crackdown by Saddam Hussein when she was 6 months old, language holds the power to help heal even a country as riven as Iraq.
"We fled because of religious persecution," Anaie, 19, of Sparta, New Jersey, said at Hagedorn Hall on Adelphi University's Garden City campus. "That enabled me to really want to pursue international law, mainly so I can speak for those who really don't have a voice."
Anaie is one of 60 students from 26 countries who gathered at Adelphi Thursday to be recognized as winners of an international essay contest on the role of multilingual ability in global citizenship.
The contest drew more than 1,400 entries from 128 countries.
The catch was that the writers had to write in a language other than their native tongue and in one of the six official languages of the United Nations, which is a sponsor of the Many Languages, One World contest. Those languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
Anaie, who studies at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, chose Chinese -- one of five languages she's fluent in. She said she wrote about fleeing Iraq and her subsequent interest in international law.
"I need Chinese because Chinese is the No. 1 spoken language in the world," she said.
Anaie and the other winners, many of whom were in the United States for the first time, practiced presentations of their essay topics at Adelphi. They arrived Wednesday and are slated to showcase their work before the ambassadors of the UN General Assembly Friday as part of a youth forum.
The contest is made possible through a partnership of ELS Educational Services Inc., the United Nations Academic Impact program and Adelphi.
"Adelphi has had a long relationship with ELS," said Peter DeBartolo, administrative director of Adelphi's Levermore Global Scholars Program, adding that the school is also closely affiliated with the United Nations, where it is accredited as a nongovernmental organization.
Adelphi regularly hosts speaking engagements by UN ambassadors and envoys, and hosts forums on global issues. Adelphi students attend events at the UN.
"Global learning is in the mission statement of the university," DeBartolo said.
Joagni Paré, a native of Bur-kina Faso and a student at National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, wrote about how having learned Chinese helped him understand his own West African culture better.
"I'm confronting myself with a new culture," he said. "It's like a mirror."
Paré, who speaks English, German, French, Chinese and his homeland's five languages, said he is encouraged by the business partnerships developing in Africa between China and several other countries, adding that he would like to play a role.
He aspires to work in international relations, perhaps as an official of the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF -- or as secretary-general of the UN.
"They need people who can serve as a bridge between the African and Chinese market," he said.