Like many people of my generation, my interest in the Middle East was piqued by 9/11 and the US decision to invade first Afghanistan and then Iraq. I found myself in disagreement with everyone I knew about these military interventions and was deeply uncomfortable with the intolerance I saw in the aftermath. Growing up I never had the opportunity or resources to learn more about this region, so I conscientiously knew I wanted to at least take an Arab history or culture class during my time at Williams. Thankfully, I met Professor Magnus Bernhardsson early on, and he was an influential mentor. He encouraged me to push the boundaries of my understanding and to take an Arabic language class if my goal was to truly learn about Arab culture and identity. I took 3 full years of Arabic, so you can say I was hooked!
Upon completing my bachelors’ degree, I started an internship with AMIDEAST, a leading educational development organization focused on the Middle East. From 2011-2013 I worked as a Program Assistant at AMIDEAST while completing my masters in Arab Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. The program requires advanced language proficiency as part of its degree requirements, so I embarked on an intensive two years of language study. Speaking, listening, reading, and writing only in Arabic 3 hours a day for two years straight was challenging but beneficial. I left the program feeling extremely confident in my language abilities.
From 2013-2016 I worked for an international peace and conflict resolution organization called the Institute for Inclusive Security. My regional area of focus was South Asia, so I engaged more on the programming in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Pakistan. However, I had several moments where I was able to use my Arabic language skills to benefit the organization. One of my proudest my moments was providing simultaneous language translation for a Syrian activist who was visiting DC as part of the organization’s programming. I have also spent much of my personal time traveling to Arabic-speaking countries, including a 2015 trip to Cairo, Egypt.
Although my fluency in the language fluctuates, (it really is a use it or lose it language!) my overall knowledge of the language and enriched understanding of the region is a valuable asset. It has helped me make personal connections, secure certain professional opportunities, and always makes for an interesting point of conversation.
I will forever be thankful for the opportunities to travel abroad, accessibility of the Arabic program, and commitment of the faculty members. My time spent in Williams’ program laid the groundwork for my personal and professional aspirations/future.
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