It's going to be a hot summer for sophomore Janelle C. Thixton. She's traveling to Oman – average seasonal temperature: 100 degrees Fahrenheit – thanks to a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Arabic, but immersion in a different language and culture may help to keep her mind off the heat.
The State Department launched the Critical Language Scholarship Program in 2006 to increase opportunities for American students to study critical-need languages overseas. In particular, public and private sector opportunities for Arabic speakers have skyrocketed in recent years. Like many in her generation, Thixton's interest in the language developed out of tensions between Western countries and the Middle East.
"I wanted to learn Arabic because of the renewed interest in the Middle East following the 9/11 terror attacks," Thixton says. "I tried to teach myself using a book, but the language was just too different for me to grasp. When I came to DePauw, I was looking for classes, and I thought Arabic would be interesting to take. I only planned to take one or two semesters, but I just stuck with it."
Thixton, a women's studies major, is particularly interested in gender issues in Arabic culture. She says the language itself contains cultural insights that are lost in English translations.
"There's a lot of cultural and religious history embedded in the language, and it's really cool to get into that," Thixton says. "I've learned quite a bit about Islam through the language."
"It's also a very fun script to learn, and I think it sounds beautiful," she adds. "It's a very emotional language."
Civil unrest in many Arabic-speaking countries limited Thixton's summer travel options. Egypt, home to two of the primary sites for CLS recipients in Arabic in previous years, was ruled out early on, and questions arose regarding other host nations until Thixton found out that she was heading to Oman, a country occupying the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
Thixton will spend her time abroad in Oman's capital city, Muscat, where protests have been small compared to others in the region. Even with some uncertainty surrounding the country's political climate, the rewards of traveling now, she says, far outweigh the small risks.
"This trip is really going to help me out a lot," Thixton says. "I'll get firsthand cultural knowledge, and it's a wonderful way to improve my Arabic."
Thixton is among the approximately 575 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students who received a CLS in 2011 to study Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish or Urdu languages. She is DePauw's third CLS recipient in as many years. Lisa A. Poole '12 and Mary A. Howard '10previously traveled to Korea through the program.