Editor's note: When Samira Jubran, a medical interpreter in Language Services at Mayo Clinic, was growing up in Palestine, she didn't envision being an interpreter. But life took her in a new direction after she came to the U.S. to study biomedical engineering. Here she shares the story of how her career and her passion for interpreting languages and bridging cultures were born from her desire to fight bias and prejudice.
By Samira Jubran
Being an interpreter was not what I wanted to be in third grade, or even as a teenager in high school. I actually wanted to be a singer and a dancer. I had a hard time deciding on a college major. I loved too many subjects. In the Arabic education system, there are two tracks you can choose from in ninth grade: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), or humanities. I chose STEM, with a focus on math and science.
I was born in Jerusalem and lived in Ramallah. We had an olive tree, a big walnut tree and a lemon tree in our backyard where I have many childhood memories of playing. I used to rub the leaves of the lemon tree on the way to school. I ate falafel and hummus every Friday with fresh baked sesame ka'ak (Palestinian sesame bread).
"I've always loved the connection between the brain and the heart."Samira Jubran
I was the eldest child born to Palestinian parents who supported higher education. On my high school graduation from the Friends Quaker School in Ramallah, I headed to the U.S. to major in clinical biomedical engineering. I've always loved the connection between the brain and the heart.
Life takes you places. I met my husband while attending Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. We both loved working with Arab American youth, instilling a sense of identity and culture. From Cleveland, we went to Chicago, where my oldest daughter was born, and then to Germantown, Tennessee — a suburb of Memphis, where my husband and I worked in dialysis.
With the birth of my twins, and with four kids under four years old, we decided to go back to Palestine, needing family support. But when violence intensified from the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising), which began in September 2000, we were forced to escape back to Tennessee. We weren't able to protect our own children from the daily attacks and from fear. We learned to be courageous in the face of adversity.
Growing up as Palestinian, I learned to be forgiving and accepting of others. I also learned that education is the only thing that cannot be taken away from you. As Nelson Mandela says, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
"Education is the solution for empowerment."Samira Jubran
We returned to Tennessee the summer before 9/11. I returned to working as a part-time interpreter throughout the community. More importantly, I started volunteering at the Germantown schools through a cultural arts program to fight bias and prejudice. All this was because my youngest daughter, feeling discriminated against, asked me this question: "Mommy, why am I brown?"
This question from my 5-year-old with black, curly hair was the drive for me to become the interculturalist interpreter that I am today. Education is the solution for empowerment. I graduated with a Master of Arts in intercultural studies with an emphasis in education the same year my twins graduated high school. My mission was to spread global inclusion for all humanity.
I have always been an outlier — a hybrid of two cultures — easily flowing from one to another. When my daughter started her medical school career, an opportunity to be an interpreter became available at Mayo Clinic. Driven by my passion — my love to serve people and using communication skills I gained from over 20 years as an interpreter — I was delighted to take advantage of this opportunity.
Working as an interpreter at Mayo Clinic has allowed me to expand my cultural curiosity, training and knowledge into research, translate my education into practice, and further develop my intercultural career.
"I am inspired by the need to close health care gaps for our Arabic patients and to build intercultural agility, all while spreading joy."Samira Jubran
Mayo's collaborative culture fuels my approach to interpreting language and culture. I'm able to interconnect cultures, connect Arabic patients with our providers and health care staff, and to value cultures seriously. I was fascinated by the vast numbers of Arabic patients who come to Mayo Clinic. With my Arab American cultural legacy, my schooling and my experience, I know I can open the door to everyday experiences for patients and staff at Mayo. I'm at the right place at the right time.
The Language Department offered the support for me to share this passion. As an interpreter, I'm at the front line, being part of patients' stories. My department has allowed me to pursue intercultural boot camps. By offering health care and cultural concepts, tools and common ground relations when working with Arabic patients, I help staff to get into the linguistic and cultural rhythm of their patients. I'm grateful to have received the 2018 Mayo Diversity Champion Award for my work.
I am inspired by the need to close health care gaps for our Arabic patients and to build intercultural agility, all while spreading joy. We have a great culture where the needs of the patient come first. This is an opportunity where I can grow with Mayo's global culture and work within a passion I enjoy. I am so grateful. I cannot wait to see where life at Mayo is going to take me next.