Arabic Epiphany

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CATEGORY: Academics
TYPE: Articles
RELATED PROGRAMS: Hispanic and Latin American Studies, International Studies

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Published in Macalester Today

One of the beauties of a liberal arts school is the way it allows you to find yourself—and your abiding interests—while still in college.

This quality of certain schools, Macalester among them, has certainly paid off for Patrick Snyder ’13 (Versailles, Ky.). Although he’s an Hispanic studies and international studies major, in the last two years he has developed two additional strong interests in Arabic and global health, areas that will likely prove influential in his future career. “I have a lot of interests pulling me in all sorts of directions,” he says wryly, “but I’m starting to see how they might coalesce.”

The exciting political developments of Arab Spring motivated Snyder—who’d already studied German as well as Spanish—to take on Arabic as well. He began his studies while attending school in Seville, Spain, in fall 2011, and has continued it since his return to Macalester a year ago.

Last summer he was among a small group of U.S. students to receive a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship. Snyder spent the summer in Tunis, Tunisia, where he learned an entire year’s worth of Arabic in two months. “They know what they’re doing in those immersion programs,” he comments. “I was really forced to step out of my comfort zone.”

In Tunis he lived with a host family in a wealthy suburb by the sea, studying Arabic for many hours a day and attending cultural outings in his limited free time. Despite the challenges, he loved his time in Tunisia, an experience he calls “incredibly transformative,” which took him from a beginning Arabic speaker to an advanced one.

“Speaking Arabic allows you to tap into the energy of the locals,” he says. “People were so shocked and excited to meet an American who spoke their language. It’s the last thing they expected, and a great way to foster understanding among people.”

Back at Macalester this fall, Snyder is continuing to pursue his other new interest—global health. A spring 2012 class on Poverty, Health and Development with Professor Christy Hanson, dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship, piqued his interest in that topic. He also participated in a WHO conference on neglected tropical disease, held at Mac last spring. With a group of fellow students, he is publishing a paper from that conference. In the coming months he plans to volunteer at St. Paul’s Family Tree Clinic in reproductive and sexual health education.

When he’s not studying, Snyder serves as Mac’s student body president, another time-consuming yet rewarding involvement. “I’m really plugged into what happens on campus with different events and orgs, “ he says. “It has been a great lesson in leadership and communicating across differences.”

As for his post-graduation plans, Snyder has plenty of possibilities but nothing nailed down yet. Wanting to continue working on his Arabic, he has applied for another Critical Language Scholarship, for fellowships in Egypt and with Global Health Corps, and for a Fulbright in Morocco. 

Ultimately he hopes to earn a master’s degree in public health or public policy and then pursue a career in public health, possibly in the Middle East. “The two things I’m most interested in, Arabic and public health, I stumbled onto only a year ago,” he says. Although he admits it has been stressful trying to rearrange things since then, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

PUBLISHED: 01/02/2013