Alison Finn ’12 (Oswego, N.Y.) has always been interested in religious history, but after the events of Sept. 11, she was confused by media portrayals of the Muslim world. A high school student at the time, she set out to learn more about Islam and became hooked on Middle Eastern studies. This summer, she will participate in the Arabic immersion program at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Finn received a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, which will pay for tuition and provide a stipend. For eight weeks, she’ll only speak Arabic; achieving language proficiency is an important step in her goal of becoming a professor of Middle Eastern studies.
“One of the things graduate schools look for is language proficiency,” says Finn, a history and religious studies double major. “It’s very important for me to improve my Arabic skills this summer, and I’m excited to learn in such an intense environment.”
Finn previously spent a semester abroad at American University in Cairo, where she lived with an Egyptian student. There, she studied beginning Arabic, Islam, and the history of the Middle East and ancient Nubia. Over spring break, she traveled to Israel and the West Bank. She also participated in a faculty-led interim abroad course to Turkey, where she studied the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. Those experiences, she says, exposed her to the beauty of Islam and the Middle East and highlighted the confusion that results when extremism enters the mix.
“After Sept. 11, I saw the negative publicity Islam often got and I felt the media’s portrayal could not be accurate,” she says. “It showed me the power of misconceptions. I want to help correct those misconceptions.”
Finn also is using her on-campus pursuits to prepare for the rigors of graduate school. She conducted research with Asma Sayeed, assistant professor of religious studies, on the study of the educational system in medieval Damascus. This fall, she’ll begin work on her honors thesis on the Groves Papers, letters from American missionaries connected to Lafayette who lived in Persia from 1925-30.