Joanna Spinolo was the first, official, declared Arab World Studies major at American University. Spinolo has always had an interest in languages, and this is what first drew her to the major. Currently, she speaks French (her second major), Arabic, and Farsi, which she began learning this past summer. She was originally at AU as a Law & Society major, but after taking Arab World Societies as a general education course with Professor Randa Serhan — Director of the Arab World Studies Program — in the spring of her freshman year, she decided to switch majors.
When asked what distinguishes the Arab World Studies Program from other programs at American University, Spinolo replied: "[It] offers a full and multidisciplinary look at the Arab World.… You can't just pick one area … to focus on and expect that other areas don't affect it." She added that the major offers extensive information about emerging markets, international relations, human rights, and social movements, as they exist in the Arab world.
Spinolo hopes to work for the government for a few years before going to graduate school, hopefully at Johns Hopkins University. She has noted that a degree in Arab World Studies will make her more marketable in the field when she graduates, citing her cultural understanding of the Arab World and language proficiency. For right now though, she continues to be a valuable asset to the Arab World Studies Program.
Hunter Liles was first drawn to the Arab World through his interest in understanding Islam. After taking Arab Societies with Professor Serhan and the World of Islam Professor Akbar Ahmed, Liles says he wanted to become a scholar of the Arab World. The aspects that intrigue him the most about the major is the influence of Islam on the Arab World, and the world's preoccupation with the region.
What impressed Liles the most when he looked seriously into the program was its diverse course listing. Noting that the program takes a holistic approach to understanding the Arab World, including politics, economics, language, gender relations, literature, and geography, Liles says that each of these aspects feeds into each other "like Russian stacking dolls" with religion at its core. And since Liles was originally a history major, he tends to use that historical lens as his first approach to beginning to understand the complexities of the Arab World and Arab societies. "You can't really tell who we are now without looking at what brought us here," says Liles.
Even though Liles is a sophomore with two years ahead of him, he's already thinking about ways to use his degree after graduation. He's considering a possible career in foreign service, with a specific interest in using culture as a bridge between the U.S. and the Arab world, or going into business, with special attention to the oil and technology fields. To that end, he's hoping to study abroad in the United Arab Emirates his junior year. For right now though, the Arab World Studies Program is more than contended to keep his passion and enthusiasm on campus.