As a 15-year-old Cuban American who had never set foot outside of the United States, my desire to live and learn in the Middle East seemed odd or incomprehensible to most. I was fascinated by the Arabic language, and it was my goal to attend King’s Academy, a high school in Jordan where I could live with local and international students alike while studying Arabic. I was certain that studying in Jordan was not only the best way to deepen my knowledge of the Arabic language, but also to grow as a whole person.
After a year of writing and pleading with hundreds of businesses, I was unable to obtain the remaining financial assistance I needed. With less than a few weeks before classes began, I launched 100 decorated glass bottles into the Atlantic Ocean asking for support. A local newspaper wrote an article about my story, and I was flooded with support the same day.
The three years I spent at King’s Academy were characterized by the love, warmth, care and support I received from my classmates and teachers. My school was guided by a mission to ensure an integrated life for its students, an emphasis on global citizenship and diversity, and a responsibility to serve our local community. This environment helped me grow and flourish, and I knew that I wanted the same from my college experience. At Georgetown University, I found just that. Georgetown was guided by similar Jesuit values that above all prized educating the whole person, service and community in diversity. Just as I had in Jordan, I knew that I could flourish in such a space.
Georgetown provided a space to balance my identities and interests. I turned to groups with similar passions and continued taking classes on Arabic language and Arab history and culture. I found a home in Arab Society as vice president, and through cultural performances as part of Turathuna, Georgetown’s first ever Dabkeh dance troupe.
Throughout my time at Georgetown, I was presented with countless opportunities to give back to the local community. My freshman year, I participated in the Countering Islamophobia alternative break program and for three years served as a tutor for immigrant youth and adults with the D.C. Schools Project. As a daughter of immigrants and having witnessed the Islamophobia within my own community, these opportunities to serve and learn formed a meaningful part of my Georgetown experience.
During my junior year, I studied abroad in two distinctly different places: Doha, Qatar, and Jerusalem. The ability to live and learn in these two locations provided me with a more holistic understanding of the Middle East, an opportunity few universities offered. Even at the end of my time at Georgetown, the diversity of coursework permitted me to explore my interest in other languages apart from Arabic. My senior year, I chose to continue with Arabic, along with a semester of Hindi, and gained proficiency in Italian, constantly finding connections among these seemingly unrelated languages and cultures. Together these experiences permitted me to grow and flourish personally and academically. Georgetown’s commitment to a core set of values echoed what I had most appreciated from my time in Jordan.
My experience at Georgetown was not without its difficulties, but through the love and support of my teachers and family, I overcame the doubts, fears and challenges I faced along the way. In Jordan, I valued the time my teachers dedicated to mentor and guide me. Throughout my time at Georgetown, I was fortunate to also find teachers that sometimes took hours of their time to impart wisdom, provide advice and discuss my interests. With the love and unwavering support of my family, I found strength to overcome my fears and continue to thrive at Georgetown. As graduation approaches and I go on to pursue a master’s degree in Arab studies at Georgetown, I am overjoyed to know I will extend my time on the Hilltop for just a little longer.
Aviselle Diaz is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.