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Miriam Rayward

Miriam Rayward

Boren Fellowships

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey


International Relations

I am half-Palestinian and half-American, and I was born and raised in Spain. This gave me a sincere appreciation for language: I am fluent in Spanish, English, and French. When I came to the United States for college and started graduate school at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, one of my goals was to become proficient in Arabic. Thanks to the Boren Fellowship, I am now very close to that goal. 

As a Boren Fellow in Jerusalem, I interned at Hand in Hand School, which teaches Arab and Jewish children together. My main responsibility at the school was to build the curriculum and teach a class on conflict resolution for the tenth graders. In June 2011, Shakira, the Columbian-born singer, actually came to our school because of its unique mission. In preparation for her visit, I helped to teach the students a song in Spanish. During my fellowship, I also participated in a group research project that focused on policy implementation at different levels of government.

I studied Arabic with my language tutor several times a week. I had been studying Modern Standard Arabic and, through an earlier Critical Language Scholarship, I learned a little bit of the Moroccan dialect. As a Boren Fellow, I focused on improving my Modern Standard Arabic and learning the Levantine dialect. My tutor was actually one of my roommates, which gave me a lot of time to work on my Arabic. I lived with three unmarried, conservative, Muslim, Arab women. The experience of living with these three women, learning about their background and religion, attending weddings and cooking traditional dishes together, gave me a deep cultural understanding and an irreplaceable point of view.

Communicating with people, hearing their stories, and having access to the culture through language was truly the best part of my fellowship. When the Picasso exhibit came to the Palestinian Territories for the first time, it was a significant event. I went to see it and, while there, I had the opportunity to meet Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Territories. I had a short conversation with him in Arabic. He asked about my background, what I was studying, and my experience in Jerusalem. Being able to communicate in another language really does make a big difference. It gives you an incredible perspective on the world that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

While I was overseas, I met some very interesting people and gained a much deeper understanding of cultural and political issues of the region. The experience also opened the doors to a lot of opportunities. Two weeks after I graduated, I attended the annual Boren Symposium where I received a job offer from a federal contractor. I started working shortly thereafter. My Boren Fellowship has changed my life and I would recommend that others apply. There are few times in your life when you can really focus on language study, but that’s what Boren is all about. It is truly unique experience. 

Written: December 2011