Story taken from interview with Elizabeth, NPTS, ’17; Written by K.Throgmorton
Elizabeth started her language journey with a high school student exchange program to Marbella, Spain. In that small coastal town, she learned Spanish through immersion in the culture and was able to gain proficiency in the language otherwise unattainable through classroom learning.
That experience informed her decision while studying in university to pursue Italian in an immersion program, like she’d done in Spain. This time, her language journey took her to Sicily and a program that enhanced her degree in security studies with in-depth, localized studies of Mafia history.
Then she found herself on the west coast of the United States in a degree program still focused on security but with more emphasis and specialization. For the first year at the Institute, she studied Spanish and through those classes met students from other degree programs who ended up being some of her closest friends here. Spanish wasn’t enough. After thoughtful consideration and assistance from professors on campus, Elizabeth applied and was awarded the prestigious Kathryn Davis scholarship to study immersive Arabic in the Middlebury summer program. That summer was like going to summer camp for adults, she says. She started with the basics, focusing on learning the Arabic alphabet, sounding out words and practicing her most basic conversation skills. She says it was hard at first, after signing the language pledge English is not allowed and those first days she could not communicate very much beyond simply exchanging greetings. With a great cohort and supportive teachers she progressed quickly. That summer was about learning the language fast and learning it well so she would be able to use it in her other research as well as her future career.
Arabic is a critical language that contributes deeper understanding to what she studies in her other classes. Knowing and understanding Arabic helps fill in more pieces of the puzzle she tries to understand in her studies of complex counterinsurgency strategies. Arabic helps to understand local populations perceptions, understandings, fears, and concerns that are extremely relevant to policy decisions being made even at the highest government levels. Elizabeth benefits every day from her knowledge of Arabic; the language gives her a more comprehensive understanding of terms she uses in class. Especially apparent after studying some concepts in English first then in their native Arabic are the errors in translation when you take a term out of its cultural context. Studying Arabic has given Elizabeth an opportunity to understand more deeply concepts she is studying and that will continue to help her in whatever she does with her Middlebury degree.