Decanini Prepares For Career in International Relations

Maya Humston, Reporter

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Lately, there has been a high demand for Arabic speakers in many industries in the US. Knowledge of the language could help in almost any field, and those who learn the language have found themselves better able to handle relations with other countries, learn other languages, or even just live in the modern age of international communication. This is precisely why senior Gina Decanini decided to take an independent study on this very subject.
“[I like] getting to really challenge myself, and knowing that it’s a very valuable skill that I can really use in the future,” said Decanini. “I mean, anyone from a doctor to a lawyer to someone working in international relations could really benefit from learning Arabic. There’s such a large population of people in the world who speak it, and I just feel bridging that cultural divide is so important too.”
Over the course of the semester, Decanini has been working with Dr. Sandra Hayslette, a social studies teacher at RCHS, as well as Washington and Lee student teacher Nourhanne Ezzat, who is Egyptian and Arabic herself, to learn all about Arabic language and culture. She says her interest was piqued last summer, during Virginia Military Institute’s Star Talk Arabic summer program.
“It was a great experience,” said Decanini. “In a couple of weeks they managed to teach you enough information so that you’re conversationally fluent in certain areas, and that was just so awesome to me. I wanted to find a way to continue speaking Arabic and practicing.”
Arabic is a notoriously intricate language to learn — but as it turns out, that is Decanini’s favorite part.
“Personally I just love the study of languages in general. I’ve always taken that opportunity to learn as many languages as I can, but one thing I just really enjoy about it is the complexity of it,” said Decanini. “Having previously studied romance languages, there’s not nearly as many moving parts as, say, a language like Arabic. I like getting to really challenge myself, and knowing that it’s a very valuable skill that I can really use in the future.”
One new concept Decanini found particularly fascinating was dialects, or variations in a language based on region or social group. Arabic is particularly famous for its dialects.
“That was something I’ve never touched upon before, since the Arabic I studied in the past was just standard, formal Arabic,” said Decanini. “I’ve been trying to branch into different dialects, specifically Egyptian and Levantine dialects, which sometimes feel like I’m learning just two different languages entirely. It is so interesting when you notice how different certain vocabulary words are, sometimes it’s basically unrecognizable.”
Decanini’s mentors have helped her by teaching her the cultural aspects and practicing her speaking, but they have helped in other ways too.
“Nourhanne has been sending me different materials, a lot of movies actually,” said Decanini. “She sent me this really interesting documentary called “Four Women of Egypt”, and it basically follows the lives of four very different women in different historical time periods. It was really good, really well done. And then there were some not-so-great movies. She sent me an action movie once and I couldn’t get through it, I was like, ‘this really isn’t helping me with culture, and I don’t really enjoy this too much.’”
Decanini enjoyed her independent study so much that she plans to continue her study of the Arabic language through her final semester at RCHS.
“I want to do a year-long independent study. There’s so much material there, I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover it in a semester. That honestly wouldn’t be doing it justice,” said Decanini. “I’ve been focusing more on the linguistic side this semester, and next semester I’d really like to look into the history and development of the Arabic language, because there’s a lot of interesting influences there that I’d really like to study more, and also go more into dialects, because I just barely scratched the surface there.”
She plans to put her knowledge to good use once she leaves high school.
“I want to work in international relations. I’m not entirely sure to what capacity, or what particular field yet, but learning about different cultures is what I enjoy,” said Decanini. “I would love to make the world a better place, and I feel like the only way to do that is by communication. I definitely plan to use this in the future, one way or another, whether I’m doing translation work or something else.”