Townsend, Dana




Dana Townsend

Name: Dana Townsend


Language: Arabic

Location of Study: Beirut, Lebanon

Program of Study: American University of Beirut

Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures 

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A brief personal bio:

As an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, I double majored in Neuroscience and Creative Writing with a certificate in Global Studies. Through this academic concentration and my experiences studying abroad in Kenya and Malawi, I became interested in learning more about the relationship between violent conflict and mental health. After briefly studying International Conflict Resolution and working for both AmeriCorps and the American Psychological Association, I returned to school to pursue a PhD in Developmental Psychology and Peace Studies here at the University of Notre Dame.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My research at Notre Dame focuses on the emotional impact of political violence on youth, and it aims to improve the effectiveness of psychosocial services for young people who have been displaced or otherwise affected by armed conflict – particularly in the Middle East. In order for me to partner with organizations and researchers working on these issues, it is critical that I become conversant in Arabic. Not only will this help me build relationships with my colleagues, it will also prevent me from limiting my research to English-speaking populations or filtering it through an interpreter. The type of work I plan to do employs ethnographic methods, which uses interviews and participant observation in order to interact with people at all levels of society. This mode of research necessitates deep immersion in the culture and a long process of trust building between the people with whom I interact and myself. To build these relationships, I will demonstrate a strong grasp of both classical and colloquial Arabic.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

After studying Arabic at Notre Dame for the past two years, I feel that my reading and writing skills have become quite strong. However, my speaking and listening skills are still weak, and I lack the confidence to speak Arabic even when I know the words. I anticipate that my participation in the summer Arabic program at the American University of Beirut will expand my vocabulary, improve my pronunciation, and boost my conversational skills. The ability to comfortably and confidently converse with native Arabic speakers will improve the quality of my dissertation research and my interactions with those I meet. Further, by focusing on both classical and colloquial Arabic, this program will enhance my ability to engage with Arabic speakers in both academic and casual settings. This will help me contribute work that is rooted in collaboration and mutual learning, while also having the opportunity to learn more about the social, political, and cultural context in Beirut.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. By the end of my program, I will be able to read newspapers, blog posts, research papers, and reports written in classical Arabic.
  1. By the end of my program, I will be able to hold simple conversations with native Arabic speakers about topics related to daily life, as well as topics related to my dissertation research on youth and violence.
  1. By the end of my program, I will be more comfortable initiating conversations and responding to others in Arabic, and I will allow myself to move out of my comfort zone and take risks with the language.
  1. By the end of my program, I will show improvement in my ability to follow other conversations in Arabic that I hear on television, on the radio, or in person.
  1. By the end of my program, I will have identified areas for improvement, so that I can continue to learn and grow in the Arabic language.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Once I have completed my summer program, I intend to build on these skills by continuing to take Arabic courses at Notre Dame during the fall and spring semesters of next year. In addition to this, I will increase my participation in the weekly Arabic table organized by the CSLC and speak with its attending teaching assistant in order to maintain and further develop my conversational skills. Independently, I will try to keep my language comprehension sharp by reading news articles and blog posts in Arabic, as well as listening to podcasts. There is also an organization called NaTakallam, which uses Skype to connect students learning Arabic with displaced Syrians in Lebanon. Participating in this platform would allow me to practice speaking Arabic while getting to know interesting people and sharing our cultures. Prior to my fieldwork, I also anticipate that there will be numerous Skype calls and email exchanges in Arabic with my future partners in the field.