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Arabic Alumnae

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Aaron Weintraub (BA, 2017)

Aaron Weintraub majored in Journalism and minored in Arabic.  Shortly after graduation he moved to Amman, Jordan to work with Collateral Repair Project [CRP], creating videos for their end-of-year campaign. As he became more comfortable as a videographer and video editor, he began freelancing more, transitioning from writing, which was his primary focus in college. In 2018 he began directing a mini-documentary, Class X, for news outlet Syria Direct. The film focuses on two trainees, both of which were media advocates in the Syrian conflict, their reporting work at Syria Direct, and their struggle to obtain more objective journalistic practices. He has also started the Collateral Repair Podcast with some of his friends at CRP, featuring interviews with refugees about specific topics and situations they may experience. He currently lives in the Jabal Amman neighborhood in the center of the city, in a small apartment that features ants in places that may surprise you.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

Beyond just living in Amman and getting around socially, my work with videography and journalism here depends greatly on my Arabic-speaking abilities. My entire interview process hinges upon me being able to understand and translate questions into Arabic. Even if the interview is in English, there are more complicated sections that may need to be translated in order to get the full point across. The success of such interviews varies but certainly in the past year there’s been immense improvement. Journalism as a field is starting to recognize the importance bi-lingual reporters, particularly in multimedia storytelling. The most important skill I’ve picked up in the past year is turning over subtitles as quickly as possible.

While some of the larger and more established outlets do use English speaking reporters with more reporting experience in favor of finding journalists with lingual and cultural roots in a particular region for their storytelling (which I’ll diplomatically say is disheartening), this is certainly not the future. I’ll avoid going on a rant about social media and simply state that the overall trend of high-quality photo/video/audio technology has become more affordable. To state simply, more stories in areas that wouldn’t necessarily merit that much attention are broken with cell-phone footage, and that’s not going away. What will go away is a reliance on reporting personalities that may not have a vested connection to the country, city or neighborhood they’re reporting on, and the root of such a connection is almost always shared language.

What has learning Arabic, living in the Arabic world, meant for your growth as a person?

            I’ve had to listen to some of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever heard since coming out here. One of the first interviews I had in Amman was at Collateral Repair Project with a Syrian man who was having visa issues because he had been forced to link up with a local faction of the Islamic State. When he attempted to escape the first time, he was tortured and finally managed to flee to Amman. By then, his family, which had made it into Jordan before he was forcefully recruited, had been relocated. At the time of my interview with him. his second child had recently been born in Canada and he has still not been able to see her. While such stories are difficult to listen to, they serve as a reminder that if media outlets do not exist to share these experiences, the world isn’t going to have any understanding of what refugees go through before reaching Jordan and once they’ve made it to Jordan.

Alyssa Goessler (BA, 2016)

Alyssa Goessler graduated from the Clark Honors College in 2016 with a degree in Social Sciences (Globalization, Environment and Policy) and a minor in Arabic Studies. During her undergraduate studies, Alyssa studied abroad in Amman, Jordan for one semester where she studied Arabic Language and Culture. During the Spring of her senior year, Alyssa defended her Honors Thesis, “Traditional Islamism Confronts a New Actor: Syrian Brotherhood Dialogues on Daesh”, which relied heavily on her Arabic language skills. Her thesis passed with distinction and earned the Clark Honors College’s International Thesis Award.

After graduating in June 2016, Alyssa relocated to New York City where she accepted a position at the Permanent Mission of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations. In her role as assistant to the Deputy Permanent Representative, Alyssa assisted primarily in the tracking of and correspondences related to Elections for international bodies. Alyssa also served as the focal point for the United Nations Protocol and Liaison Service and the Office of Foreign Mission of the U.S. Department of State—the two entities requisite for the securing of the diplomatic rights and privileges of Jordan’s team of diplomats.

She further assisted in event planning for large Ministerial-Level, Ambassadorial-Level and Expert-Level meetings hosted at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After completing one year at the Mission of Jordan in March of 2018, Alyssa will assume a new position at the Executive Office of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, a United States Foreign Policy think tank, publisher and membership organization.

Alyssa plans to enter into a Master’s program in Fall of 2019 focusing in Security Studies and Arabic Studies. In her spare time, she leads a Youth Empowerment program at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, in collaboration with a local non-profit organization named Dare2B.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

Enrolling in Arabic 101 during Fall of my Freshman year was the most haphazardly beneficial decision I’ve made for both my personal and professional life. I quickly found myself magnetically attracted to the language and the greater implications of being an American studying Arabic. The Honors program at the University of Oregon requires a thesis defense as a component of the degree completion, and I knew from my freshman year that I wanted to incorporate Arabic into my thesis. This kept me on track as I knew I would need to obtain a strong degree of proficiency in Arabic in order to have it as a useful skill for research purposes. However, I never knew Arabic would become such an important component of my career path. I sensed it wouldn’t be a bad gamble, as I started my studies in 2012—one year after the Arabic Spring brought the Middle East into the daily U.S. news cycle—but I could have never anticipated the opportunities it would bring me and the wonderful life-long friendships resulting from it.

What has learning Arabic, living in the Arabic world, meant for your growth as a person?

I’m excited for the day when a non-Arab, non-Muslim American can study Arabic or without it constituting a quasi-political act because I think that will be indicative of a new tide of political and cultural exchange and understanding between the U.S. and the Middle East. Regardless, this did come to be a defining component of my undergraduate studies, and my time abroad in particular completely undid any preconceived notions I had of the Middle East. I found myself being continuously humbled as I had to accept that I really knew nothing about the Middle East and Middle Eastern culture.

This humbling process has only continued during my time working as an employee of the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom Jordan. My coworkers have selflessly indulged my myriad of questions about food, religion, dialect and politics, and have never judged me for my opinions or lack of knowledge in those regards. I think this is perfectly illustrated by a time that I tried to eat Jordanian treat—watermelon and a white cheese that is similar to feta cheese named “jibneh akawi”.

Apparently you’re supposed to eat the cheese with a bit of pita and then take a bite of the watermelon. I, the delightfully uncultured American, wrapped up the cheese and watermelon in the pita like a massive burrito. My good friend and colleague who is Jordanian started laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe, and then kindly taught me the proper way to eat it, which was a million times more enjoyable. This was such a unique and specific learning moment that I never would have had if I hadn’t tried to actually engage in the culture in a meaningful level.

In sum, if my Arabic Studies have taught me one single thing, it’s that I ought to always be open-minded and curious, and that the second I assume I know everything is the exact moment I will lose my ability to learn.

Lily Leach (BA, 2012)

At the UO I majored in Comparative Literature in 2012 and studied Arabic there for three years. Shortly after graduation, I moved to Cairo where I worked as an editor for a local trade magazine, an intern at the American University in Cairo Press, and later, briefly, as a news editor for Egypt Independent. I then relocated to Istanbul, and worked as an editor for an international business magazine. I am currently a staff writer and news editor at a Palestinian news agency in Bethlehem, the occupied West Bank. 

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

Without Arabic, I wouldn’t have been introduced to the network of people – both faculty and fellow students at UO – who encouraged me to move to Egypt and start a career in media. I would have never thought it possible to live and work abroad, had it not been for the education of the Arab world that I received at the UO. Acknowledging the immense privilege I was born with that enables me to travel and cross most borders with relative ease, being a part of a community of Arabic-language learners and native Arabic speakers has unlocked a world of opportunity for me, both professional and personally, for which I am very grateful.

What has learning Arabic meant to you personally?

Studying Arabic at university and the ensuing years attempting to improve my Arabic has been an ongoing struggle that has truly tested the limits of my mental strength and my potential for personal growth. Every sincere effort I have made in the past to improve my Arabic has only enriched my life, and one of my main regrets is that I haven’t tried harder. My experience learning Arabic and living in the Arab world has also continuously challenged my worldview, which has made me more of a critical thinker and I think more of a decent person in general.

Katherine von Ofenheim (BA, 2012)

At the UO I majored in International Studies, and Geography. Picking Arabic to fill my language requirement had been a complete whim, but it rapidly became a pivotal part of my studies. After my sophomore year I traveled to Bahrain to help lead youth programs during the Bahraini summer festival – an opportunity that arose in part because I happened to be the only one applying who had any mention of Arabic studies on my resume. From Bahrain I continued onto Jordan for a semester abroad. Afterwards, I spent the winter interning at an Arab Women’s Rights organization in southern Israel. By then the uprisings had begun to sweep across North Africa. Two weeks after Mubarak stepped down I landed in Cairo to experience the heady aftermath of the revolution.

This small glimpse of the very early days of the dramatic political changes set into motion my senior thesis on the Historical Context for the Responses of the Syrian and Egyptian Armies during the Arab Spring. My Arabic skills, rudimentary as they still were, were crucial to sift through sources on the Arab militaries that didn’t exist in English.

During my travels in my junior year I became both fascinated and frustrated by the mess of Arabic dialects and accents I was confronted with each time I relocated. After graduating I returned to the region in order to try to get a better grasp of some of these dialects and explore more of the Middle East. I spent a year teaching English in the West Bank and subsequently worked in Tunisia and Egypt for local organizations. Though my work has been in English, Arabic has been crucial to daily life, in everything from buying bread to making friends. Sitting in my first Arabic classes at U of O and gaping at the squiggly lines on the board I had no idea the language, region, culture and history those squiggles would open up for me. I am currently based in Turkey where I am continuing to try to make inroads with Arabic (Syrian dialect now) and plan to remain in the region in the coming years.

Mohammed Aldawood (BA, 2012)

After working a couple years in accounting, he decided to pursue his passion for teaching Arabic. As an undergraduate, he worked as both an Arabic tutor and Self-Study Instructor in Arabic and found he really enjoyed sharing both his language and culture with students studying Arabic. He is currently attending DePaul University in pursuit of a master’s degree in Arabic. In the spring of 2015, Mohammed received notice that he had been chosen to receive a fellowship from Qatar Foundation International (QFI). QFI is dedicated to connecting cultures and advancing global citizenship through the study of Arabic. As a Teacher Fellow he has received extensive financial and instructional support which he believes will be instrumental to his success in the field. He will graduate in June of 2016 and hopes to obtain a position teaching Arabic in a college or university.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

Although I am a native speaker of Arabic having grown up in Saudi Arabia, I have found that studying Arabic in new ways such as through translation and the study of short stories and art has been enriching and has helped me see the language differently. Rather than viewing Arabic solely as the language I speak, I now see it through the lens of a teacher. Learning a language is complex but there are ways to teach Arabic that can not only be effective linguistically but also culturally. I am grateful for the opportunity not only to improve my own language skills but also to learn pedagogies that make language learning accessible, interesting, and fulfilling.

What has learning Arabic meant to you personally?

From the beginning, both learning and teaching Arabic from the Gulf (al khaleeji) perspective has been important because it has been quite absent in the field. I am excited to share not only my dialect with my students but also the culture of the Gulf. Language teaching has tended to focus on Egyptian and Jordanian dialects as well as Modern Standard Arabic, but I will be able to bring in this missing component which is quite important to me personally. Additionally, teaching Arabic and the culture of the Middle East is particularly poignant these days and I look forward to being an ambassador of my culture and dispelling many misconceptions about a culture I love.

Zane Hager (BA, 2011)

Zane Kessler Hager is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the U of O Law School and works as a GTF in the Religious Studies Department. He studied Arabic for 3 years as an undergraduate and plans (hopes) to use that knowledge as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

Arabic was something that I took on a whim as a freshman that ended up defining my academic career. I initially just wanted to learn how to write in what I thought was a cool-looking script. Three years of Arabic later I realized that the language was an entryway into the whole fascinating world of Islam, religious studies and international politics. I’m working now to apply that interest and focus towards a job in international politics.

What has learning Arabic meant to you personally?

Personally, studying Arabic was an enormous challenge. Arabic 201 is the only class I’ve ever flunked. Recovering from that, getting back on the horse, was a surprisingly important experience for me. Arabic is a hard language to learn, and my struggle to do so helped me realize that getting a good grade is not the same thing as getting a good education. I figured out that I wanted to learn the language, and even though my natural facility to do so was limited, pursuing something that I cared about for reasons beyond getting a grade was really valuable to me.

Emily Stokes (BA, 2011)

Emily graduated in 2011 from the International Studies program with concentrations in the Middle East and Peace Studies, Human Rights, and Conflict resolution. Since graduating from UO, she has worked in the field of International Education at INTO Oregon State University. In 2014, she received a Master of Arts in International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at
Monterey, which was preceded by a summer in Middlebury College’s Intensive Arabic Language Program. Her work at INTO OSU includes proposing, designing and coordinating programs for international students from all over the world.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

My Arabic studies have had a major impact on my career trajectory. My language skills have greatly added to what I am able to do within the field of international education; including helping new international students adjust to life in the US, and even travel abroad to recruit new international students from all over the Arab world. There are very specific opportunities I would have missed without having Arabic language skills.

What has learning Arabic meant to you personally?

Learning Arabic has meant the ability to better understand an often misunderstood culture and region. It has allowed me to make lifelong friendships with others across the globe, enriching my personal and professional life. I have loved having the ability to communicate with other Arabic speakers on a deeper level because of my language abilities.

Kyra Buckley (BA, 2016)

The best part about learning Arabic is the people you meet. Here in Eugene I have studied with some of the most amazing teachers—teachers willing to go above and beyond to help their students succeed. In summer of 2014 I studied in Oman. I was blown away by the kindness and hospitality I was shown, and the astounding culture I was exposed to.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

I am a Jazzercise instructor. Think that has nothing to do with Arabic? I have to memorize 16 routines per class, and they rotate from week to week. My memorization skills are so advanced, it takes little time at all. Experience giving presentations in Arabic class boosted my stage presence and confidence. Plus, every once in a while I impress my Jazzercise students by counting in Arabic or sharing an Arabic phrase!

I am also a reporter at Eugene’s local NPR station. Learning about Arabic culture has enhanced my genuine curiosity about the world around me, and has increased my sensitivity to all cultures.

What has learning Arabic meant for your growth as a person?

Studying Arabic makes my life richer every day. It has sharpened my critical thinking skills, improved my memory and memorization skills, grown my confidence, and even advanced my English skills. As I shift from college into the working world I know that the discipline and focus I developed while in Arabic class will seep into everything I do.

Hassan Shiban (BM, Music Performance, 2010)

After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in music performance, Hassan studied at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, receiving his AM degree in 2013. Hassan continued his Arabic studies in a year-long program at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan. Hassan Shiban currently holds the position of Intake Coordinator with the International Refugee Assistance Project ( and is based in Amman, Jordan. He also supports IRAP Jordan through fieldwork and direct refugee advocacy. Next year, he will continue the same job in Beirut, where he will support IRAP Lebanon.

Hassan began working with refugees in the summer of 2012 after receiving a research award to conduct fieldwork in Jordan for two months to support his master’s thesis,“Redefining Syrian Identity Abroad: A Glimpse into the Lives of Syrian Refugees in Jordan in June-July 2012.” This entailed coordinating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Jordanian authorities to access refugee communities and visit refugee camps. An abridged version of the thesis was published on Jadaliyya. Hassan has previously volunteered with Sullivan & Worcester LLP and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic supporting pro bono asylum cases.

How has the study of Arabic been important for your life and career?

Learning Arabic has possibly been the most personally and professionally productive choice I’ve made. Studying Arabic, like any language, is much more than studying a language. As you delve deeper and learn more, you begin to break into other academic disciplines or professional fields: politics, history, comparative literature, anthropology, religion, or even refugee studies, just to name a few. Besides being a huge asset on paper, knowledge of Arabic allowed me come at these fields from a unique angle and, in some cases, helped pique interest where there had been none.

What has learning Arabic, living in the Arabic world, meant for your growth as a person?

Learning Arabic, engaging with the Arabic cultural heritage and contemporary issues, and living in the Arabic-speaking world has been challenging, eye-opening, and personally rewarding. Overcoming—or not overcoming—the myriad frustrations and irksome realities of a diverse world very different from your own can be difficult, but personal growth happens when you see yourself in this other world. Doing so forces you to uncover and reexamine your own perceptions and notions, as if looking in a mirror.