Spotlight: Ethan Beaudoin

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Ethan Beaudoin in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Beaudoin in Wadi Rum, Jordan

“Tell me what you understand so far about…” is something--a tutoring strategy--you often hear from September 2014’s CSLC Spotlight, Ethan Beaudoin. A Notre Dame senior from Ballston Spa, New York double-majoring in Arabic and Political Science and minoring in Peace Studies, Beaudoin is a very skilled CSLC Arabic Language Peer Tutor. As I chatted with Beaudoin, some interesting themes emerged in our conversation: broad exploration, deep engagement, and a developing sense of the self- and other-examined life.

In the interview, this intensely curious young man describes his Notre Dame experiences in the classroom, campus, and international community. He credits much of his intellectual appetite for and achievement in Arabic to Professor Bualuan of the Department of Classics of Arabic Language and Culture, who encouraged Beaudoin to push the boundaries of his academic life by studying abroad, which in turn has led to further studies and opportunities. That Beaudoin makes a strong impression in the Arabic program is obvious; “Ethan’s excellent interpersonal skills and hardworking optimism allow him to successfully lead numerous club meetings and events. He is motivated and motivates others with his passion,” observes Professor Bualuan.

Beaudoin is currently taking the sum of his experiences--and passion and leadership--further by helping develop a Community-based Learning Arabic course. This is just another day in the life of Ethan Beaudoin, Notre Dame’s outstanding Arabic language student, who’s been diving deep into his pursuits head first.

Projects and Goals

If you had any opportunity in the world the day after graduation, where would you be, who would surround you, and what would you be doing?
I would really like to study Kurdish in Hawler, Iraq, the Kurdish region of Iraq, because I find the Kurds’ quest for statehood fascinating. They have an identity but they are spread across four different states. Hawler itself is a center for tourism--until recently--and a center of economic growth. It’s mixed Arab, Turkish, and Kurdish.

What is your 3 – 5 Year Trajectory?
Right now, I am applying to several post-graduate scholarships for further study abroad opportunities. Additionally, I am looking into work with the government or energy companies. Either way I would like to work or study for 1-3 years post-grad before returning to school for a masters in International Relations.

What current projects are you working on?
I’m interested in studying the Kurds and their quest for a state. I want to visit Turkish Kurdistan over winter break to do some research so I am in the process of applying for a grant. Additionally, I am in the process of setting up a Community-Based Learning class that would be run through the Arabic Department. A large Arabic speaking population in the area allows students to not only participate in service but also immerse themselves more fully into the South Bend community.

A CBL Arabic language course. Very interesting and ambitious. What do you think ND students would get out of this CBL Arabic course?
First of all, a practical language knowledge--exposure and practice with a variety of dialects. You would be surprised at the dialectal variety. Also, cross-cultural knowledge. For example, Halal meat. It is the acceptable meat according to the Koran and there is only one butcher shop, El Medina, in South Bend, who carries Halal meat. Also, not everyone knows that there are soccer games every Friday evening. It’s a great way to interact with SB’s Arab-speaking community. Lastly, applying Arabic. You will really put it to use and get a lot out of it. You can see that people appreciate that you can speak Arabic at a high level.

Ethan Beaudoin with host mother in Jordan
Beaudoin with host mother, Samira, in Jordan

Foreign Language Experience

What language(s) do you study/know (since elementary and on)? When, Where, Why?
I started studying French in 7th grade and continued until my sophomore year here at Notre Dame. I am of French-Canadian heritage and I live quite close to Quebec (some street signs in my town are even bilingual), so I thought French would be a good language to know. I went to France twice, first as part of a high school language exchange and second on vacation with my host family in western France.

I started studying Arabic my freshman year here at Notre Dame. I have always been interested in the Middle East and I wanted to try to graduate at least being able to read a language with an alphabet that isn’t Latin. The first couple days of class were very intimidating, but after a few weeks I fell in love with the language. I became so passionate that I sought to go abroad to study Arabic more the summer after my freshman year. Professor Ghada steered me towards an intensive program at The American University of Beirut. My experience in Beirut whet my desire for studying Arabic in an intensive environment and since then I spent a semester in Amman, Jordan and a month in Ibri, Oman.

What has been your favorite part of learning a language at Notre Dame?
Using my Arabic language skills in the community. Up until last December I had no idea that there was such a large community of Arabic speakers in South Bend. While at the RCLC [Robinson Community Learning Center] preschool I could see how me speaking Arabic made a huge difference in the experiences of the children that were there.

What has been your favorite language class and why?
The Arab Spring. Professor Shehata taught this class last spring and it focused on the series of revolutions that swept the Arab world from 2010 until 2012. This was a very small class that had several very dedicated students in it. The discussions and debates that we had in this class were unlike any other that I have ever taken.

How do (or have) you use your language – here or abroad?
Since coming back from abroad I have been able to use my Arabic abilities surprisingly often. The South Bend area has a sizeable Arab population. Last semester I worked at the Robinson Community Learning Center’s English as a New Language Preschool. This preschool's goal is to provide an immersive English environment for children ages 2-5 who don’t speak English at home. While I was at the center 8 of the 12 students were from Arabic speaking households. This semester I am working at the American Red Cross in Refugee Resettlement. Most clients are Iraqi and it always puts the refugees at ease to hear their native tongue being spoken.

What advice would you give to anyone learning a language?
Go abroad and immerse yourself. The best way to learn a language fully is to not use your native tongue as long as possible.

Ethan Beaudoin volunteering in Shoubeck, Jordan
Beaudoin, volunteering, helped rebuild a playground in Shoubeck, Jordan

International Experience: Culture and Perspective

Have you ever lived abroad? Where? For how long?
The only times I have been abroad for an extended period of time was while I was studying Arabic. I spent two months in Beirut, Lebanon, five months in Amman, Jordan, and one month in Ibri, Oman.

In addition to where I have been through my Arabic studies, I have visited Turkey, Palestine, Israel, France, Italy, England, Canada, and Mexico.

Describe your study or work abroad programs.
In Beirut I studied at the American University of Beirut’s Center of Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) Summer Arabic Program. This program consisted of 8 hours of class a day for eight weeks. On Thursdays we had field trips into the city for hands on learning, and on the weekends we had organized trips to the Lebanese countryside. I lived in the campus dorms and I was assigned a Lebanese roommate, Omar. We became great friends and keep in touch on Facebook. Facebook is huge in the Arab world. I learned Lebanese colloquial from him and he also taught me how to type on an Arabic keyboard.

In Jordan I was the first Notre Dame student to test into and participate in the CIEE’s Arabic Language (AL) program. AL is a completely immersive language centered semester. The program included 16 credits taught in Arabic, a comprehensive language pledge, and placement with a host family that was chosen based on their inability to speak English.

The two highlights of my time in Jordan were my host family and the week long language retreat to southern Jordan. My host mother, Samira, is a 70 year-old Lebanese grandmother who lives in tiny apartment with her youngest son Madhat, who is 35. At the beginning of my time in Jordan my Arabic, especially my Jordanian Colloquial, was pretty shaky. Immediately I was accepted into her house as if I were another son. She was very kind and was always making sure I was comfortable in her home which helped me adjust, but I felt the most at home when she handed me the trash to take out on my first day of classes. When I wasn’t studying there was always something that Samira had me doing around the house. I cooked dinner with her, ran errands, cleaned, made sure that my bed was made every morning before I went to class. She ran a tight ship but that made me feel at home.

In Oman I spent the month of May at Noor Majan Training Institute in Ibri. Ibri is a small town that was initially settled because it was the last source of water before crossing the Empty Quarter towards Mecca. The town has grown in the past couple decades because Oman’s largest oil field was discovered less than 50 miles away. The May course at Noor Majan consisted of eight hours of class a day for four weeks and centered around spoken Arabic, specifically spoken formal Arabic.

Did you eat most of your dinners with Samira?
She made me eat with her everyday. She kept feeding me and feeding me and feeding me. I did a substantial amount of cardio at the gym before I came home so I could eat to Samira’s content.

What has been your most memorable or impactful experience regarding other cultures? How has that changed your perspectives?
In the fall of my sophomore year I took Atalia Omer’s class Jerusalem: Peace or Apocolypse. This class really changed my perspective on the Palestine-Israeli conflict, as well as the nature of all conflicts. The most eye opening experience happened after we watched the movie Waltz with Bashir as a class. This movie centers around the memories of several IDF soldiers that served during the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. unbeknownst to me, I had visited this very same camp while I was studying at AUB. This was a very personal example of how collective memory can be shaped.

The one experience that changed my worldview the most was during the language retreat in Jordan. While we were hiking near Shoubek, a young boy ran down from the top of a hill and invited us into his father’s tent for tea. Our group of twelve went into his tent and met his father, a 63 year-old Bedouin Hajj who claimed to have never lived in a solid structure and had completed the Hajj three times on foot. The Hajj told us with great pride about the herd of goats he owned, how his tent was made, and his three wives. Hearing this man speak so passionately about what most Westerners would think is squalor really opened my eyes to the many different ways that happiness can be achieved.

Sounds like a very meaningful intercultural experience. Talk a little more about this transformational experience. These kind of experiences have the power to raise one's consciousness.
The transformation came when I really took in how proud he was of his success--the size of his tent. It was absolutely massive. He had a tractor which could transport hundreds of gallons of water. He was so proud. It was an amazing moment for me.

University Experience

Describe about (any) mentors you have had at Notre Dame and how they have encouraged and inspired you.
Professor Bualuan has always been very supportive and helpful when it came to further pursuing Arabic. I wouldn’t have gone abroad. She sold me the idea of going to Lebanon, which in turn, led to other studies abroad. I owe it all to her.

What clubs or activities do you participate in at ND?
I have been an Arabic club officer since I came back from Jordan and this year I am one of the Co-Presidents. I was the Keough Hall Judicial Commissioner (run the elections) for the three years I lived in Keough. Additionally I am on the Men’s Rowing team.

Describe any internships you’ve had.
This past summer I had two internships. I was a Logistics Intern at Radiant Pools in Albany, New York. Coordinating the movement of goods has always been something that interested me and I thoroughly enjoyed my position this summer. Additionally I was a remote intern with a software company called Statecraft. Statecraft runs an International Relations Simulation software that has proved to be a great hands on learning tool for International Relations courses. With Statecraft I did research, created a marketing campaign, and did some video editing.

How has the CSLC helped you these past few years?
Working at the CSLC is always one of the high points of my week. Being a peer tutor further enhances my language ability by forcing me to have an understanding of the basics of Arabic grammar and letter pronunciation. On a more personal level I really enjoy interacting with the first and second year students and watching their language growth across the semester.

Ethan Beaudoin volunteering at the Robinson Center
Beaudoin volunteering at the Robinson Center

Community Engagement

Tell me about your participation in community service/engagement/activism.
I’ve done some work with the Arabic speaking population in South Bend. South Bend is a relocation zone for Iraqi refugees so there is a surprisingly large Arabic speaking community in the area. Last semester I was a volunteer at the Robinson Center’s English as a New Language Preschool where a majority of the enrolled students are from Arabic speaking households. This semester I am working to set up a sustained relationship with the Robinson Center and the Notre Dame Arabic Department.

This semester I also started working at the Red Cross with Refugee Relocation services. This job involves providing transportation to refugees in their first three months in the US as well as aiding with applications to housing, healthcare, social security, etc. South Bend has a status as a relocation point for Iraqis. However, this service may be going away any day. Right now I’m trying to get other faith-based organizations to house this service. Also, my hope is that a similar position will be offered through the Arabic Department for credit in the future.

At the beginning of every academic year, faculty members recognize foreign language students who excel in their language programs. This year Professor Bualuan nominated Beaudoin immediately and enthusiastically. Here is what she says about Beaudoin:

“At Notre Dame, Ethan has exhibited a thirst for connection with Arabic at every turn, not only taking Advanced Arabic language courses, but also participating in the CSLC’s tutoring program, joining the Arabic Club, and contributing regularly to our bi-annual Arabic Newsletter. He currently serves as the president of the Arabic Club, where he works with fellow officers to promote Arabic language and Arab culture on campus.

Ethan’s record of volunteer service, outside the Arabic program, is equally impressive. He has been actively engaged in community activities. At the Robinson center, Ethan works as a volunteer in the English as a New Language (ENL) preschool. As an Arabic speaker, he helps provide a welcoming environment for those who come from Arabic speaking households.

It's obvious that Ethan has benefited from engagements of prolonged or shorter duration with foreign universities and programs. Hi experience of living and studying Arabic in Lebanon, Jordan and Oman helped stand him in a very good stead in our program and allowed him to succeed inside and outside the classroom.”