Fabian Pfortmüller on Why to Learn Arabic and Study Middle Eastern Languages

In Chapter 3 of 19 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, community builder and entrepreneur Fabian Pfortmüller shares why he went with his gut feeling in choosing to major in Middle Eastern Language and Culture at Columbia University. After enjoying travels to the Middle East and experiencing the food and culture, Pfortmüller considers the short and long term benefits of learning Arabic language. Learning the language not only opens future doors to living and working abroad in the Middle East, but also provides short term benefit to understand Arabic language based current events and news. Pfortmüller is co-founder of Sandbox Network (www.sandbox-network.com). He also co-founded an innovation think tank, Incubaker (www.incubaker.com), and is part of the group's first spin-off, Holstee (www.holstee.com), an apparel brand for people who would like to wear their passion. Pfortmüller graduated from Columbia University and its School of General Studies.


Erik Michelsen: How has majoring in Middle Eastern languages built upon your fascination with global culture?

Fabian Pfortmüller: I traveled a few times in that area in the Middle East and you know as always I guess when I made a big decision in my life it was so random and it was more based on a gut feeling and a love for something than a rational process, same goes for me doing Middle Eastern languages and cultures. When I was traveling there I loved the people, I loved the food, food is a very important aspect of how I make decisions in my life, I loved the culture and I really felt that… cultures in general are very interesting but I won’t be able to understand them all, I have to start somewhere kind of digging deeper.

I can read the New York Times and the Economist and get kind of a general sense of what’s going on but going back to study is a great opportunity to dig deeper in one specific hole and hey, I had this passion for the Middle East, why not dig deeper there? Because that would also allow me, because now we’re studying Arabic, to actually live there at some point and while I can say now after my Arabic, which is very intense, I do two or three hours of homework everyday on just Arabic but – and it’s still on the level of, I don’t know, first grader I guess but it’s cool because I watch the news right now what’s going on the Middle East and we have all the protest in Egypt and so on and I understand kind of what’s going on and I can read little bit of the newspapers and I can watch Al Jazeera and kind of get the grasp of it and that’s really, that’s really cool.