Abigale Belcrest '16

I am currently a Fulbright Researcher in Morocco, where I am researching compensatory divorce payments and conceptions of Islamic rights (specifically that of qiwamah, or maintenance). As you can imagine, my study of Arabic and the Middle East more broadly at Williams was crucial to receiving the Fulbright grant, and I am deeply grateful to the department for their mentorship and breadth of intellectual material. In terms of direct impact, my research is a fusion of several topics explored in various Arabic Studies classes that I then expanded into a senior thesis with advising from Prof. Yacoob, Prof. Amal, and Prof. Berhardsson.

Abigale BelcrestTo be frank, I would have never received the Fulbright grant if not for the many conversations, debates, and deep inquiry that my language classes and Arabic Studies classes raised. You cannot produce worthwhile research without knowing a place and you can never know a place or culture without developing a deep grasp of language. Although I certainly have a long way to go in my own language study–especially in a country like Morocco, which is a true hodge-podge of indigenous languages, Arabic dialect, and colonial European influence–Arabic at Williams fostered my curiosity and empathy to look beyond basic language structure to focus on the relationships and communication that are the real reward of language learning. As a result, I have developed some of the best friendships of my life while abroad. Also, I must add, I have laughed more than ever this past year, as my understanding of the brilliant wit and hilarity of Moroccan Darija grows.

Studying the Israeli occupation in Palestine during high school first propelled me to the Arabic language during my freshman year at Williams. One semester and I was hooked; I went on to study various aspects of Middle Eastern history and politics through my undergraduate studies. Coincidentally, I just returned from my first trip to the Holy Land this past weekend. Visiting the center of so many civilizations, religions, languages, etc. was an incredible and eye-opening experience, and I eagerly await my next opportunity to travel and live in the Middle East proper, so completely different from Western North Africa.

My most rewarding experience with Arabic at Williams was definitely becoming part of the Arabic Studies family. Some of best friends at Williams–and frankly, some of the best people at Williams–were my fellow Arabic Studies majors. Now that we’ve graduated, many of us have tended to stick in and around the region, and the random meet-ups that occur as a result are a true delight.

As far as my Arabic Studies bucket list goes,
– Definitely take a tutorial with Prof. Bernhardsson–you won’t regret being able to reference specific Israeli scholars in the midst of a debate in Israel down the line…though to be honest, the cute Icelandic snacks are reason enough
– Take your poem memorizations seriously–being able to pull out an impromptu Darwish on command will earn you major props down the road
– Just memorize the verb forms the first time around. Seriously. It will save you many sleepless nights and dictionary-checks and self-loathing
– Take a comp lit class with Prof. Amal–this is one of my biggest regrets.
– And most importantly, GO TO OFFICE HOURS! The Arabic Studies profs are truly so wonderful. You will miss them and regret not developing real relationships with these wonderful people if you don’t take advantage now.

Contact – [email protected]