Critical Language Scholarship Program | Caitlin Scholl
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Caitlin Scholl

Why did you want to study your CLS tar­get language?

My research is focused on West African lit­er­a­ture and film. When I first began study­ing Ara­bic, then, I was inter­est­ed in it pri­mar­i­ly as the clas­si­cal writ­ten lan­guage of the Sahel — I want­ed to be able to access the Tim­buk­tu man­u­scripts, a vast archive of medieval and ear­ly mod­ern texts writ­ten in Ara­bic (or, some­times, in West African lan­guages in Ara­bic script) and stored for cen­turies in fam­i­ly libraries through­out the region (http://​www​.tombouc​touman​u​scripts​.org/​a​b​o​u​t​/​h​i​s​tory/). The longer I stud­ied the lan­guage, though, the more inter­est­ed I became in Ara­bic as a liv­ing, spo­ken lan­guage, and the more inter­est­ed I became in the trans-Saha­ran con­nec­tions of today, par­tic­u­lar­ly those involv­ing Morocco. 

What are your edu­ca­tion­al and/​or pro­fes­sion­al goals?
I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on my dis­ser­ta­tion, which com­pares recent Moroc­can nov­els and films in Ara­bic with sub-Saha­ran texts in French, Eng­lish, and Bambara/​Bamana (one of the main lan­guages in Mali). After I fin­ish my PhD pro­gram, insha’al­lah I will con­tin­ue work­ing in acad­e­mia, research­ing these areas and teach­ing my stu­dents about them.

How do you plan to use your tar­get lan­guage in the future?
In addi­tion to my pro­fes­sion­al goals, I have the short term goal of return­ing to Moroc­co next year to con­duct research for my dis­ser­ta­tion: inter­view­ing peo­ple, dig­ging through news­pa­per archives, and track­ing down some hard-to-find books and films.

How did par­tic­i­pa­tion in the CLS Pro­gram affect your life?
Before CLS, my acqui­si­tion of Ara­bic had plateaued. I had fin­ished the lan­guage cours­es at my uni­ver­si­ty two years before and, while I was still read­ing Ara­bic, I was not get­ting much speak­ing or lis­ten­ing prac­tice. Even though I had done well in my advanced Ara­bic class and under­stood the gram­mar exer­cis­es in the text­book, I was not an advanced speak­er or lis­ten­er.

CLS lift­ed me out of my malaise. Class­es were focused on lis­ten­ing to news pro­grams and hav­ing dis­cus­sions on com­plex social issues. Rather than sim­ply com­ing up with the answer to a text­book ques­tion I did­n’t care about, I had to final­ly start using those gram­mar rules to artic­u­late myself and under­stand my class­mates as we spoke about issues that I do care about.

Out­side of the class­room, the lan­guage part­ners were an amaz­ing resource. I had spent a pre­vi­ous sum­mer in Moroc­co, but most of the young Moroc­cans whom I met at that time want­ed to speak with me in Eng­lish or French. With the CLS lan­guage part­ners, though, for the first time I devel­oped friend­ships entire­ly in Ara­bic. We’re stay­ing in touch and I can’t wait to see them again.

What was your favorite part about being in your host country?
This is prob­a­bly the most clichéd thing I could pos­si­bly say, but it’s true: I love the peo­ple and the food. 

Many of the Moroc­cans whom I met were kind enough to engage with me in inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions on com­plex top­ics even though my Ara­bic was quite bum­bling. I think this con­ver­sa­tion­al gen­eros­i­ty and patience stems in part from the fact that Moroc­co is such a lin­guis­ti­cal­ly het­ero­ge­neous place, with three Tamazight (Berber) lan­guages, dif­fer­ent lev­els and region­al vari­a­tions of Moroc­can col­lo­qui­al Ara­bic (dar­i­jah), Mod­ern Stan­dard Ara­bic, French, Span­ish, and Eng­lish all spoken.

I’m the kind of per­son who plans my vaca­tions around street food din­ing options, and Moroc­can food is leg­endary, par­tic­u­lar­ly for its sweet/​savory fla­vor com­bi­na­tions. One favorite: pastil­la, a chick­en (or pigeon), onion, and nut-stuffed pas­try sprin­kled with cin­na­mon and sugar.

What did you learn about your host coun­try that you did­n’t know before?
I have read quite a bit about Moroc­co and had spent a pre­vi­ous sum­mer study­ing Ara­bic in Rabat, but this sum­mer was the first time that I vis­it­ed rur­al areas — an expe­ri­ence that def­i­nite­ly enriched my under­stand­ing of the coun­try. The week­end after we arrived, our entire group stayed with host fam­i­lies in an Amazigh vil­lage in the Mid­dle Atlas, vis­it­ing a few wom­en’s coop­er­a­tives, as well as a gor­geous lake in Ifrane Nation­al Park. Then, near the end of the sum­mer, we had an extend­ed break due to the end of Ramadan and Throne Day falling in the same week. One of my class­mates and I took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to trav­el to stun­ning Aït Boug­mez (a.k.a. Hap­py Val­ley) in the High Atlas. Dur­ing the day we hiked around and at night we hung out under the one street­light in the vil­lage with the young peo­ple home from uni­ver­si­ty for the hol­i­day. When Eid came, our new friends invit­ed us to share in the cel­e­bra­tions with their families.

Please share a short sto­ry about your CLS Pro­gram experience.
Ear­ly in my stay, I vis­it­ed the Roman ruins at Walili (Vol­u­bilis). I was­n’t plan­ning on hir­ing a guide at first, but then I met an old­er guide who spoke with me in Mod­ern Stan­dard Ara­bic (MSA). We went on to talk about not only the ruins, but also about his life, the his­to­ry of the near­by town (Moulay Idriss Zer­houne), and about a local author whose nov­el I was read­ing at the time (in which one of the pro­tag­o­nists is an old man who is a guide at Walili). I felt so com­fort­able chat­ting with him that, before I knew it, two hours had passed and I had to leave to meet my friend. At that point in the sum­mer, it was the longest sus­tained con­ver­sa­tion that I had ever had in Ara­bic out­side of the class­room — it inspired me to strike up more con­ver­sa­tions with strangers in MSA over the course of the summer. 

What is your favorite tar­get lan­guage word or phrase, and what does it mean in English?
ويلي ويلي ويلي
Wīlī wīlī wīlī. Lit­er­al­ly my woe, my woe, my woe” or my hell, my hell, my hell,” in use it’s not usu­al­ly as seri­ous as it sounds. It’s most sim­i­lar to Oh my God.” As with the Eng­lish phrase, it can show aston­ish­ment with both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions. The cadence of the phrase is impor­tant: the first wī is long, with the rest of the syl­la­bles fol­low­ing rapid­ly after. 

What is a must see or must try in your host city or country?
Tang­i­er is one of my favorite cities any­where. Sit in the Café Hafa ter­races over­look­ing the strait of Gibral­tar (a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence dur­ing the day and at night), mean­der through the Kas­bah and down to the beach, watch a film at the Ciné­math­èque, take a seat on the side­walk ter­race at the Gran Café de Paris (café cul­ture is very impor­tant), and check out the music scene (which includes every­thing from gnawa to discotheques). 

For some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, head to the holy city of Moulay Idriss Zer­houne with its beau­ti­ful views and free out­door Roman baths. Both times that I went, my friends and I were the only tourists in sight. Also, near­by Walili (Vol­u­bilis) has the best pre­served Roman ruins in the country.

What advice would you give prospec­tive appli­cants, par­tic­i­pants on the pro­gram, and/​or recent CLS alumni?
Par­tic­i­pants: if you haven’t pre­vi­ous­ly stud­ied your coun­try, read some well-regard­ed schol­ar­ly books on it in addi­tion to any inter­net research that you do. 

Per­son­al background
I grew up in Port­land, Ore­gon and I remained in the area to attend Reed Col­lege. After grad­u­a­tion and work­ing at a num­ber of jobs (bike mes­sen­ger, grass­roots orga­niz­er, after-school pro­grams coor­di­na­tor, vagabond in Mex­i­co), I served as a Peace Corps com­mu­ni­ty health vol­un­teer in Cameroon for two years before return­ing to the US to start my PhD program.

Alumni Profiles

Caitlin Scholl
Caitlin Scholl
Arabic 2014

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Posted Date

April 27, 2015