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Student interest in Arabic leads to scholarship

TAMPA, Fla. -- For Sarah Sharfstein, a sophomore double majoring in anthropology and communication, it started with an interest in people and culture.

This interest helped Sharfstein earn the Critical Language Scholarship, an award that will allow her to study intermediate Arabic in Alexandria, Egypt for nine weeks this summer.

The scholarship offers fully funded group-based intensive language instruction for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to study 13 critical foreign languages in locations where the language is natively spoken.

Sharfstein will be learning different dialects from Egypt and said she hopes to have a better understanding of Middle Eastern culture and the language.

At USF, Sharfstein is involved in numerous organizations such as director of community service for Panhellenic and president of Junior Panhellenic. She is also a member of the Chi Omega Women’s Fraternity and serves as alumnae relations chair for the fraternity.

Sharfstein said when it came time to choose a foreign language to study, she chose Arabic because the class met twice a week rather than three times a week, which was what other language options met for.

While only intending to take Arabic to fill a degree requirement, Sharfstein said she really enjoyed learning the language, and decided to continue studying it.

“It’s really incredible,” she said. “I’ve been studying Arabic for the last two years. This is my fourth semester studying Arabic... I already knew a couple words because my boyfriend is Egyptian, so his parents taught me a little bit.”

Once a psychology major, Sharfstein said she lost interest because she believed she didn’t have the patience to become a therapist. From there, Sharfstein’s interest in languages and dialect has led her to change her major to communication.

Sharfstein heard about the scholarship last semester from the USF Office of National Scholarships when she walked into their office. She said she credits USF for leading her to the scholarship.

“Without ONS, I would not have gotten this scholarship,” she said. “They were incredibly helpful. Dr. (Phillip) Bishop and Ms. (Toni) Granato really helped with me with my essay. They helped me figured why I wanted to do it because I knew I did, but sometimes it’s hard to put into words exactly why you want to do something, and they help developed a plan and a clear set of goals so I can get the [Critical Language Scholarship] and see where I was coming from.”

Sharfstein also said she hopes to gain a clear understanding of the different dialects used by those who speak the Arabic during her trip in Egypt.

One of Sharfstein’s long-term goals, she said, is to work for the U.S. Department of State, where she can put what she learned from her degree to work.

"I hope to go on to work for the state department and bettering diplomatic relationship between the Middle East and the United States, because the U.S. has a policy to get involved in international affairs and likes to better relations between the countries themselves," Sharfstein said.


Filed under:Anthropology Communication Arts and Sciences   
Author: Marc Seide