In our new Global Citizen series, we highlight alumni who embody a spirit of global citizenship. Our second Global Citizen in the spotlight is Gabe Davis '10, who recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
Gabe is spending this summer in Tangier, Morocco, studying Arabic on a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department. When the summer grant concludes, he will return to the U.S. for a month and then head back to Morocco on a Boren Scholarship. Also a grant from the State Department, the Boren Scholarship underwrites intensive language study as a means of promoting national security. The expectation is that recipients will do a year of service with the federal government, either working in the State Department, Department of Defense, or Homeland Security or any Intelligence Community agency.
We caught up with Gabe recently over the phone from Tangier, where he is living with a host family and studying and practicing his Arabic (which sounded pretty fluent, based on a quick side conversation he had with a friend while we were on the line). We were curious how he became so interested in Arabic and the culture, history, and politics of the region. Describing a trip he took to Israel after his sophomore year at Choate Rosemary Hall as "life-changing," Gabe said he returned from Israel "so intrigued by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I decided to change my language to Arabic in school."
He enrolled in Choate's Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) program, one of the school's signature programs designed to allow students to have immersive, experiential, intensive, and collaborative experiences in specific areas of study. In an article in the Choate alumni magazine, Gabe described his decision to enroll in AMES as "perhaps the most consequential decision of my high school career. It led me to pursue Arabic studies throughout my entire undergraduate career," and that, in turn, appears to be leading to his post-college choices. (One of Gabe's TCS and Choate schoolmates, Noah Hastings '11, was also featured in the Choate alumni magazine article. Noah, who just graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton with a degree in Near Eastern Studies, will be teaching at King's Academy in Jordan this coming year.)
By his own admission, Gabe was a "very busy guy" at the University of Chicago, where, in addition to majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and growing his fluency in Arabic, he also received a certificate in Chicago Studies (the photo above is from a profile of Gabe from the Chicago Studies program). He participated in Model UN; was involved with the Chicago Institute of Politics, worked on the Chicago Journal of Foreign Policy and with an Arabic magazine at school, serving as editor-in-chief his junior year and managing editor his senior year; volunteered with Syrian refugee families through the Hyde Park Refugee Project; served as the undergraduate representative to the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; and was a student supervisor on the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, for which he supervised a team of interns, compiled and corroborated data across Arabic and English sources, and authored reports. He was a brother in the Alpha Phi Omega service community, and spent summers interning with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, tutoring veterans, working with recently released inmates, and conducting research on East Asian regional security and cyber security at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
Academically, his interests spanned a range of arenas, from researching Arab American activism in Chicago in the 1960s, and Taliban movements in Afghanistan to contemporary Moroccan politics. For his senior thesis, he opted to research, and ultimately wrote, a 120 page thesis on the Western Sahara conflict during the 1980s. Gabe was introduced to Morocco and issues related to the Western Sahara during a study abroad program during his sophomore year at the University of Chicago. "I realized that not a lot of people were talking about the Western Sahara and I was surprised by that," he said. "I was working at an undergraduate foreign affairs publication, and the editor-in-chief said, 'Why don't you write something about Morocco?' Western Sahara came up. I ended up quitting magazine but what I wrote became my thesis."
Gabe spent two years researching and then writing his thesis, ultimately presenting his research at two conferences – one in Illinois and one in Doha, Qatar. Although Gabe isn't certain he wants to make Morocco his ultimate area of expertise, he believes the North African country is a great choice for now because it offers a unique strand of Arabic, with "very good classes in Modern Standard Arabic," a language very few Americans speak.
During his busy four years at the University of Chicago, Gabe said it was a "saving grace" to be able to see his Country School, Choate, and UChicago classmate Natalie Hills on a regular basis. "We're pretty good friends," he said, noting that their friendship has spanned 13 years — ever since they started going to school together as grade schoolers in Madison.
Gabriel and Natalie, who heads to Harvard Law School this fall, in Chicago.
As for The Country School and whether it impacted his path in any way, Gabe said he enjoyed studying ancient Egypt in 5th Grade and, in fact, dragged his parents to the King Tut exhibit when it was in Philadelphia. But he believes his interest in the region really only began when he was able to experience life in the Middle East firsthand, and that occurred during his summer trip to Israel two years after he graduated from TCS.
There is one aspect of his Country School experience that he is fairly certain impacted his path. "I definitely think it was really important that we took things like the Moab trip and the Delaware trip — they were the first times I was able to do a long-term, sustained period of travel," he said. "The trips introduced me to the bounty that is the United States in terms of travel and also introduced me to the idea of roughing it a bit. They instilled an ethos, a curiosity, a wanderlust."
Gabe, let us know where your curiosity and wanderlust take you next. No doubt it will be somewhere interesting, and we're pretty sure that, wherever you go, you will make the most of every opportunity.
Postscript: Gabe was home in Madison for a month in late August between scholarships in Morocco and stopped by for a visit. He was excited to see some old familiar things (like his 5th Grade classroom, the history classroom, and the library) as well as some new things, like the robotics lab, the new athletic fields, and the new roadways, parking system, gardens, and signs.