Three to Study Overseas Through Critical Language Scholarships

Josette Rophael

Josette Rophael

UT Dallas student Josette Rophael became so intrigued with the political shifts during the 2010 Arab Spring uprising that her life direction became clear: She wanted to work to end conflict in the Middle East.

“It was really eye-opening and it’s still overwhelming, what’s occurring today. It made me want to get involved long term,” said Rophael, an economics and international political economy junior in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.

She set a goal to become fluent in Arabic, starting with four semesters of the language at UT Dallas. Now, she hopes a scholarship and immersion experience will help her become conversational by the end of summer.

Rophael is one of three UT Dallas students — and about 550 chosen from more than 5,500 applications across the U.S. — who have been granted a Critical Language Scholarship for Intensive Summer Institutes from the U.S. State Department.

UT Dallas had three scholarship winners last year, but one declined due to a schedule conflict related to starting medical school. This year’s winners also include Wiam Ayachi and Aysha Khan. Liza Miadzvedskaya, a McDermott Scholar studying in Germany, is an alternate this year for Russian. 

Wiam Ayachi

Wiam Ayachi

The University’s commitment to providing programs in Arabic and Chinese has been critical to receiving these scholarships, said Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Honors College and clinical professor of political science.

“Arabic has been, by far, our strongest language, followed by Chinese, so kudos to the School of Arts and Humanities for sponsoring these language programs. Our ability to be competitive in the Critical Language Scholarship is dependent on our continued investment in these languages,” Dow said.

Each of this year’s recipients will head to North Africa or the Middle East to further their studies in Arabic.

Rophael will study in Amman, the capital of Jordan and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

“It’s really exciting to think of being immersed in the rich culture of this relevant and critical region,” she said. “Jordan is a relatively modern and liberal country, so it’s a good starting place for someone who’s never been to the Middle East.”

Though her parents were from Egypt, Rophael grew up in San Antonio without learning to speak much Arabic.

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan

“My parents wanted me to focus on learning English,” she said.

She will make up for it this summer, spending five hours a day at the Jordan Language Academy, learning both Modern Standard Arabic and the local dialect.

Rophael said the language scholarship, together with her Archer Fellow internship last fall at the U.S. State Department, will prepare her to reach her career goals.

“These experiences will give me the tools I need to pursue a career in economic development in the Middle East and North Africa,” she said.

Ayachi, a sociology senior who is heading to Morocco, will have fewer cultural obstacles to overcome when she studies in Tangier, a major city on the North African coast.

Ayachi’s parents are from Tunisia — her father came to UT Dallas in 2002 and earned his PhD in political science — and she has visited that North African country as recently as 2013 to see grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

“Everyone’s there,” she said. “So being in Morocco won’t be as much of a culture shock for me as it might be for someone else.”

CLS logo

Scholarship Winners

UT Dallas recipients of the Critical Language Scholarship and their destination countries:

Wiam Ayachi, Morocco
Josette Rophael, Jordan
Aysha Khan, Oman

Adam Mendonca, China
Addison Larson, Oman

Irene Morse, Oman

Allison-Leigh Beatty, China

Samia Hossain, Jordan
Dina Shahrokhi, Morocco

Stacey Knepp, Jordan
Molly Wurzer, Tunisia
Nehe Firoze, India

Ayachi grew up speaking a dialect of Arabic, but didn’t know Modern Standard Arabic until she studied it in high school. She is now at the intermediate to advanced level.

She wants to become fluent in Arabic to earn a PhD in political science and teach at the college level. Ayachi is particularly interested in researching political Islam and its compatibility with democracy, marginalized religious factions, and the differences between Muslims in the Middle East and those who are Westerners now.

Ayachi also has a personal reason to master Arabic: She wants to better understand the tenets of her faith.

“I memorized the whole Koran — it took me three years — but I didn’t understand all of it,” Ayachi said. “As a Muslim, knowing Arabic is essential.”

Khan, a public affairs junior, hopes that studying in Oman, on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, will help her be able to speak the Arabic she already knows how to read and write.  

“I really want to be able to talk to people. I want to be able to speak by the time I leave,” Khan said.

Khan, whose parents are from Pakistan, became interested in Arab culture when her sister married a Palestinian.

This summer she will be immersed in Arabic, taking classes and living at the Noor Majan Training Institute in Ibri, a small town bordered by a large desert that connects Oman to Saudi Arabia.

Khan eventually hopes to work for the United Nations or USAID, and help enhance the lives of women in the Middle East. She will have an Archer Fellow internship in Washington, D.C., in spring 2016.

“There are so many women who have the capability, but not the platform to speak,” Khan said. “Studies show that empowering women can lift a community out of poverty. I want to tap into that.”

Since 2008, 12 UT Dallas students have received and accepted Critical Language Scholarships. The program supports summer language institutes to help more Americans master 13 critical foreign languages needed for diplomacy and trade, including Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Punjabi, Russian and Turkish.

Recipients spend seven to 10 weeks studying the language. They are expected to continue their language study after the program and use their skills in a future career.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

Tagged: A&H EPPS