Park City student to study Arabic in the Middle East
June 16, 2015
Meredith Lawing tried calling her mother. No answer. She tried calling her father. Again, no one picked up.
So she did what any teenage girl who couldn’t find anyone to share the biggest news of her life with would do: "I was crying and screaming a little bit and running back and forth in the hallway because I didn’t know what to do with myself."
What was the news that sent her into hysterics? Lawson, who recently completed her sophomore year at Park City High School, had won a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship that will send her to Oman to study Arabic language and culture. She was scheduled to leave for Oman Wednesday before returning in early August.
Lawing was so thrilled that when she finally did connect with her mom, the rush had not dissipated.
"I could barely even understand what she was saying she was so excited," said Amanda Lawing, Meredith’s mother.
Meredith’s reaction stemmed from the fact she has been fascinated by Arabic culture for years. She grew up near Washington, D.C., in an area full of diversity and families that had emigrated from Arabic countries. And as a child, repeatedly watching the Disney film "Aladdin" piqued her interest.
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"I would watch it almost every day because I just thought everything about it was fascinating," she said.
Lawing undertook an extensive application process to win the scholarship, which is administered by the U.S. State Department. But she thought her hopes were dashed when during an interview she was told applicants as young as her are typically not accepted. Lawing turned 16 earlier this month.
"To be honest, we kind of left the interview feeling like we weren’t really sure she was going to get this opportunity," Amanda Lawing said. "So when we found out she won, we were shocked and overjoyed. Beyond excited."
Meredith Lawing hopes her trip to Oman ends up paying dividends for her future. She wants to be a peace negotiator for the United Nations.
"I think it’s important people understand other cultures," she said. "I’m very aware of conflicts in the Middle East, and I want to play a part in being able to resolve them. The funny thing is everyone tells me that if I want to be a peace negotiator, I’m going to die, even if I’m on neutral territory. That’s slightly irritating."
Lawing wants to help build bridges of cultural understanding between the western world and the Middle East. She said one example would be changing the common perception in this country that most Islamic people are terrorists, when in fact the vast majority are peaceful.
"That really bothers me," she said. "I believe that if you don’t know the culture, you’re not in a place to judge it. I want to show people it’s perfectly safe to go to the Middle East and you can go and learn things about other people and they’re not going to threaten you. I want to not only further my understanding of the culture but also help other people learn more about it."
For all her interest in Arabic culture, Lawing heads to Oman as a beginner at speaking the language. But she is hoping immersing herself in the culture will expedite her learning curve.
"I’ve learned the Arabic alphabet and it’s very difficult," she said. "It’s a whole different set of letters and depending on where the letters are in the word, they’re written differently. But I know that being in a foreign country learning a language is going to help me learn a lot more than I would in just a high school class because I will be using it in daily life."
And as for her safety? While war and strife are ongoing in some regions of the Middle East, Oman is not considered dangerous and actually ranks much higher than the United States on the Global Peace Index.
"I’m not scared for her to go," Amanda Lawing said. "Obviously we’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the region, but Oman is actually safer than the United States, technically. Mostly, we’re just excited. We know it’s something that she’s wanted for a long time."