Casey Smith ’17 has received a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to study Arabic—considered a “critical needs language” by the U.S. government—in Oman this summer.
Smith, who plans to major in the College of Social Studies, was one of approximately 550 American undergraduate and graduate students to receive the Critical Language Scholarship. CLS participants will spend seven to 10 weeks in intensive language institutes in one of 13 countries. They will study critical needs languages such as Chinese, Hindi, Russian, Turkish and Urdu, among others.
Smith currently studies Arabic at Wesleyan. She began learning the language as a senior in high school, when she enrolled in a course at nearby University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Her interest in the language was sparked by her work in high school with local refugee populations, including an internship at a refugee resettlement organization.
“Through the internship, I met a lot of people from the Middle East and North Africa. I was struck by the fact that millions of people had to flee their homes in the region, and wanted to learn more,” said Smith.
She previously had studied French in high school, but found the experience of learning Arabic to be different.
“When you learn a Romance language, a lot of the words are similar to English, so it’s easier to pick up vocabulary. Arabic is difficult, because you don’t find many words that are familiar. The alphabet is also different, and you write from right to left,” she explained. “Once you get used to it, though, it becomes more like learning any other language.”
Smith was eager to study abroad at some point during her college career. This semester, when her Arabic professor emailed the class about the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship, Smith saw an opportunity to study in the Middle East—a part of the world she has always wanted to visit.
According to Smith, the CLS program sends students to Morocco, Jordan and Oman to study Arabic. She was surprised to learn she would be studying in Oman.
“I didn’t know anything about Oman, really, until I started researching the places I’d be going. It got a lot more exciting because it’s so unfamiliar and different,” she said.