Rachel Schine ‘13

PhD Student at the University of Chicago

The Arabic studies major has basically set the stage for my entire life after Williams. I am currently a PhD student at the University of Chicago in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, focusing on medieval (re: Classical) Arabic literature, Judeo-Arabic, and a smattering of Persian. I have, since studying abroad in Tunisia during my time at Williams, gone back to Tunisia for a research project funded by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, as well as spending time in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Oman.

At the time that I was at Williams, the Arabic Studies major was brand new (it was introduced at the end of my freshman year), and so programmatically that meant the major was quite interdisciplinary. Between my language classes, a motley group of religious studies and political science courses, and a few lit studies courses, I acquired a very broad base using the major, and this has served me well in my PhD studies. I also had the opportunity to write a thesis with the now emeritus professor Dr. William Darrow, which evolved out of an independent study with him.

I had started taking Arabic the summer before arriving at Williams because of an interest that had grown over the course of my high school experience, I like to think that the art history class I took in high school was a major source of this– I found the Middle Eastern art and architecture very alluring and just was seeking to satisfy cultural curiosity. It probably helped, less fortuitously, that the Arabophone world was the stuff of news pretty consistently (as it is now) at the time that I began my college years. Growing up in a Jewish household with some functional knowledge of Hebrew grammar primed me to feel familiar with Arabic even though it was quite “foreign.” That familiarity, I think, only deepened my curiosity.

The tie for most formative/awesome experiences at Williams that I had through Arabic studies is between my thesis and my study-abroad experience in Tunisia. I would never have considered Tunisia (it is not on many Americans’ radar) were it not for a teaching assistant that was at Williams in my freshman year, working with the Arabic program through Fullbright. She was from Tunis, and consistently sung the praises of her home.

This ties in with the bucket-list question in that I think studying abroad is absolutely a “must-do” for a Williams Arabic major, even if it is just for winter study. In addition, if and when you do study abroad, North Africa should come into your consideration. A thesis is not really a “bucket-list” item, but do try to find a faculty mentor if your interests go beyond class offerings. And, of course, the Lebanese restaurant in Troy, NY.

I would add, as it was not common knowledge at Williams to my recollection, that if the Arabic program is not presently advertising the Qasid intensive program in Amman, Jordan, then those looking to jump up a year in Arabic might do well to consider it. It’s like Middlebury, but in-region, and the experience of doing that program in the first summer after beginning at the University of Chicago was another unforgettable and extremely useful one.