We are Wildcats: Catherine Cartier ‘20 on Arab Studies and Living Abroad

Catherine Cartier ‘20 in Zibkine, South Lebanon, where she studied translation abroad during her junior year. Photo by Mohammed Bzieh.

We Are Wildcats is a human-interest column which aims to share the extraordinary within the ordinary at Davidson College and to showcase the inspiring things that make each and every Wildcat unique. If you wish to be featured or feel someone’s story needs to be heard, please feel free to contact wearewildcatsDC@gmail.com! Stay tuned for future stories!

Q: What is your name, graduation year, and hometown? 

A: My name is Catherine Cartier, Class of 2020, and I am from Michigan. 

Q: What is your favorite spot on or around campus? 

A: I love the Oasis because it is a calming and quiet space, and I also like Nummit because I love coffee, see a lot of friends there, and it is like my living room. 

Q: Tell me a quick background about yourself. 

A: Before I came to Davidson, I was an exchange student for a year in Morocco and studied Arabic there. Then, I went back to Canada for two years and graduated from high school in Canada. When I came here, I studied with Dr. Joubin and I was really impressed by her generosity and enthusiasm when teaching Arabic. Since Dr. Joubin encourages students to do research, I knew I wanted to work with her over my time at Davidson. Now, I am an Arab Studies and History major. 

Q: How did you become interested in Arab Studies? What/who motivated you?

A: Dr. Joubin really motivated me to pursue my interest in Arab Studies because she has an incredible belief in her students. Before I went to Jordan for study abroad, she really encouraged me to do research there, which is something I didn’t think I had the language skills to do. It was such a gift to have Dr. Joubin providing constant support and faith in my ability to communicate. 

Q: How did you advance your interest in Arab Studies? 

A: As a way to advance my studies of Arabic, I studied abroad for three semesters. My spring semester of sophomore year, I went to Jordan and conducted research by interviewing Syrian refugee storytellers about oral storytelling and how their traditions have changed because of forced displacement. After Jordan I went to the American University in Beirut, Lebanon for a semester, where I learned about history, literature, and translation. My translation class helped me think critically about translating from Arabic to English and the potential political implications that comes along with translating. Over my spring semester of junior year, I studied intensive Persian in Tajikistan. I feel very privileged to be able to study abroad. Living internationally opened my eyes to being a student and experiencing family life in other parts of the world. It has been a very important part of my education because I have gotten to live and interact with people who I wouldn’t normally be around at Davidson. 

Q: Why is Arab Studies important to you? 

A: When I went to Jordan, I really enjoyed being able to use my Arabic to hear the stories of the Syrian refugees. I was translating generational folktales from many different women. These women would also weave some of their personal lives, like being separated from their families or having to leave their home countries, into the traditional stories. It is interesting to see how stories we consider fairy tales also converge with real, lived experiences. Translating these stories to English was a really powerful experience. After hearing these stories and coming back to Davidson, I am more open to meeting new people and seeing everyone as a potential friend. Everybody has a unique story from which I can learn and potentially have a connection with, and I want to hold on to that mindset and be open to the people around me. 

Q: What are your future aspirations? 

A: My study abroad made me realize that I definitely want writing to be a part of my future. I am interested in pursuing journalism after I graduate, which ties my storytelling work with a desire to talk and listen to others. I am keen to sit down with people, talk, listen, and observe, and take what others say seriously. I’m not the one who should tell the stories of the people I met, they can and do speak for themselves. But I hope through journalism, I can be a part of projects that will amplify the voices of the people from oppressed regions. So if that means I need to translate something from Arabic to English so that people can read it, or if I need to help with a podcast interviewing people from Syria or Lebanon, then I would love to be a part of those projects. This work is so important because it brings voices that seem distant and unfamiliar to the United States on their own terms. 

Q: Do you have any tips for your peers?

A: I wish I had worried less about what other people thought of me, and I think it’s important to listen to what makes us happy,  even if that’s different from the status quo. 

Skylar McVicar ‘23 is an undeclared major from Los Angeles, California. 

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