Katie Polglase, Magdalene College
BA Arabic & Persian Studies Part IB (2013)
"I came to Cambridge last year to study Spanish and Arabic. I had studied Spanish at school but Arabic was a complete stab in the dark. Luckily it was a stab right on target, and by the end of first year I had decided to drop Spanish and move fully into FAMES, picking up Persian alongside Arabic. Studying Arabic is a completely new type of language learning experience. At first it can appear a formidable challenge, but it is also extremely refreshing. Arabic is a Semitic language and so its linguistic basis is entirely different to that of the European languages I was taught at school.
The department is small - under 20 students of Arabic per year - and the workload is large. However if you ask any student of AMES whether they are happy to be there, it is a resounding yes. The small number of students means that classes are more relaxed, more intimate, and students develop friendships that rival those inside College. The workload is treated as part of the deal. You are starting a new language and want to come away fluent so there’s going to be a lot to learn. But the goals are realistic and you are never set irrelevant work.
As a second year, I am currently planning for my Year Abroad next year. Once again, it is a daunting but terribly exciting prospect. I visited Jordan last summer with my fellow Arabic students and it was an eye-opening experience. This was my first trip to the Middle East since entering Cambridge and the ability to start communicating in Arabic was fantastic. It reminded us all of the importance of the language we were learning. Alongside the language papers, I am also taking papers in Arabic Literature and Middle Eastern politics and society. In the latter paper we have been examining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an anthropological perspective. The work has really interested me and I am considering the possibility of focusing my year abroad research on a related topic. I hope to visit the refugee camps in the West Bank and examine how the conflict is viewed from the perspective of the camps’ inhabitants. As part of my previous study of Spanish, I spent a month in Mexico teaching children from the poorer parts of Mexico City. I hope to use this experience and interest to focus my dissertation on the impact of the conflict on children in the Palestinian camps. I’m currently planning a trip to the West Bank this Easter to do further research.
It is an exciting prospect. I am aware that the guidance of my professors, and my increasing competence in the Arabic language, will make it all the more fulfilling and valuable."