Language was the only barrier standing between Jennifer Good and a career in diplomacy and Middle Eastern affairs.
Up for a challenge, Good enrolled this past fall in an Arabic class at Claremont McKenna College.
"At first, all I saw were squiggles," she said. "Then there was a breakthrough, and I actually saw letters. It's such a beautiful language."
Good is among many students who are flocking to study "critical-need" foreign languages - such as Arabic, Farsi and Chinese - in hopes of improving their career prospects in the government or foreign service sector.
From 2002 to 2006, enrollment in Arabic classes at United States colleges and universities increased 126.5 percent, according to the Modern Language Association. In California, enrollment surpassed 3,500 students in 2006.
The Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies program at Claremont McKenna was started last year and, so far, more than 100 students have enrolled, Good's teacher Bassam Frangieh said.
"It's still very hard to learn," Frangieh said. "It's like pulling teeth."
Student Rio Fischer agreed.
"You are reading in different script. You have to process what the letters say and you have to produce the sounds you are not used to," Fischer said.
According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, Arabic is considered a Semitic language and has "a very different structure from the Indo-European languages that English speakers commonly study."
The language is written from right to left and letters look different based on their position within a word.
While a lot of students have been taking Arabic for practical reasons, Fischer was more interested in its intrinsic value - he wants to be able to study Arabic literature and philosophy in its original form.
Last week, Good and her classmates visited the Rancho Masjid mosque in Rancho Cucamonga and received a brief lecture about Islam as well as a tour.
For classmate Jake Scruggs, learning Arabic is about "understanding a culture many times considered opposite" of his own.
"We are different," Scruggs said. "But to say we are total opposite, it's far from the truth."
In an effort to advance increasingly important economic, diplomatic and national security objectives, several federal entities are also taking an interest in Arabic.
According to its strategic plan for fiscal years 2007-12, the U.S. Department of Education is working to increase the number of Americans mastering the critical-need foreign languages by expanding course offerings in Arabic, Farsi, Chinese and Russian as well as supporting related teacher preparation.
At the Department of State's Foreign Service Institute, Arabic enrollments have more than tripled since 2001 and Chinese enrollments have more than doubled, Director Ruth Whiteside said.
The National Security Education Program is providing fellowships for language study abroad to undergraduate and graduate students in return for working for the Department of Defense or the Department of State.
"Nationally, the U.S. is handicapped in foreign languages," said Dany Doueiri, coordinator of the Arabic language program at Cal State San Bernardino. "We are at war with countries we cannot communicate with."
CSUSB's Arabic program is supported by a $405,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense's Strategic Language Initiative. Five other CSU campuses are also a part of the initiative, each "offering a language considered key in communicating around the globe."
And how has Good use her newly acquired language skills?
"I sent a Facebook message to a friend in Morocco," she said.