Gabby LaTorre ’13, a rising junior at Boston College, had a busy summer. She conducted research for a long-term team project with a professor and other students, both undergraduate and graduate, she taught English to newly resettled refugee children through Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, and she worked at a restaurant.
She will be equally busy this fall at Boston College. In addition to focusing on her coursework as an Islamic Civilization and Societies and Arabic major, she will continue her research exploring national movements and political violence. Specifically, she and a teammate are looking at the spoils of insurgencies, focusing on the Iraqi revolt of 1920. She will also serve as editor of Al Noor, B.C.’s undergraduate Middle Eastern Studies journal, and as editor-in-chief of The Stylus, B.C.’s literary magazine, one of the oldest collegiate literary magazines in the country.
Things won’t slow down for Gabby in the spring, when she heads to Beirut, Lebanon, for a term abroad at the American University of Beirut. While there, she plans to continue to focus on Arabic, both Lebanese Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic, while also taking courses in archaeology, women in culture, and contemporary Arab identity. Oh, and at some point soon she also plans to take up Farsi.
We caught up with Gabby this summer in New Haven, during one of her mornings working with refugee students. Below, Gabby quizzes a young Afghani student on action verbs. She said she very much enjoyed the experience and was impressed by how eager her students were to spend every weekday of the summer in class, learning English. “They all want to learn,” she said.
Below, Gabby and another volunteer work with children in the library.
We asked Gabby how she got started on her particular academic path and what she sees herself doing down the line. Regarding the first question, Gabby traced her interest in the Middle East to The Country School.
“Mrs. Kelly’s ancient Egypt unit was my favorite thing I did at The Country School,” she said, adding that she particularly loved writing a diary in which she was asked to imagine that she was a young Egyptian girl. She also enjoyed the map tests and going to the ancient Egypt exhibition. “I always liked history and language and knew I wanted to explore something related to archaeology.”
Gabby said she also discovered she loved writing at The Country School, again, in part to her 5th Grade history class with Mrs. Kelly and 5th Grade English with Mrs. Sullivan. Likewise, she found she loved studying foreign languages, particularly through her Latin classes with Mr. Wainio, who “sparked the language thing and made it really interesting and fun to study even a ‘dead’ language.”
The final impact from The Country School has more to do with mindset. The Outdoor Education program, and experiences like the ones she had on the Southwest Trip, gave her “a spirit of adventure,” Gabby said, so much so that she and her friends are “thinking about doing a Moab revamp.” And clearly she’s not cautious about taking on a new challenge, language, or region of the world. *
Gabby also credits her high school, Choate Rosemary Hall, with fostering her academic interests. “At the end of sophomore year, I wasn’t sure what I was really interested in, and my mom said, ‘Why don’t you try Arabic?’” she recalls. “I loved it from the second I stepped into Georges [Chahwan’s] class.” In addition to Arabic, she took a course called the Modern Middle East and another focusing on pre-Islamic poetry. “Then I just knew I wanted to continue,” she said, adding that that burgeoning interest really affected where she chose to apply to college. “I knew I didn’t want just Middle Eastern Studies or just Arabic. I knew I wanted a place that had booth.” That led her to B.C., where she has been able to dig deeply into everything she's interested in.
When she returns from Beirut, Gabby will be writing a senior thesis. Her anticipated topic? How language, culture, and tradition inform human behavior and identity.
As for the future, what does Gabby see herself doing down the line? At the moment, she thinks she might want to work in intelligence or the foreign service, but ultimately, she thinks about a career in consulting or even returning to academia as a professor.
For now she is just soaking it all in. “I am trying to learn as much as I can, gain all the knowledge I can, and figure out the best and most effective way to use it,” she said.
What drives her to study, and perhaps ultimately work, in this field? Here's her answer, which will likely be music to her teachers' ears:
I feel like I’m trying to help facilitate a mutual respect and understanding. There’s so much animosity because people don’t understand and because people don’t like what they don’t understand.
Thank you, Gabby, for using your knowledge and intellectual curiosity to bring people together, in mutual understanding, from their various locations across the globe. In the words of the Country School mission statement, you are most certainly working to serve the common good as you face the future with confidence and an education that lasts a lifetime.
* Be sure to send us a photo if you and some of your classmates do manage to get back to Moab, Gabby!