Jo Huey, a Middle East studies/Arabic (MESA) major, will be the first to admit that she took
a roundabout path to studying the Middle East and Arabic. While serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ in Malaysia, she was applying to transfer to BYU, but she had minimal time to research different majors. When she noticed MESA listed, it caught her attention. Though she had little connection to the Middle East, Huey’s time in Malaysia had prompted an interest in issues related to Islam and human rights. She also knew that she wanted to work and live abroad at some point.
“So I declared [MESA] as my major, took Intro to Middle East Studies, and loved it,” she says. “Then I started taking Arabic and just fell in love.” On her mission, Huey discovered that she loved learning languages, which contributed to her love for the MESA major. “I really, really loved the intimate way of getting to know a culture and a people.”
However, COVID-19 threatened to derail Huey’s Arabic study. All MESA majors are required to spend fall semester of their third year participating in an intensive Arabic study abroad in the Middle East. Huey had been looking forward to the experience of immersing herself in Jordanian culture and improving her Arabic skills, but COVID-19 travel restric- tions meant that no BYU students would be traveling to the Middle East for this program in the fall of 2020.
“Finding out that the Jordan program would not happen in Jordan was heartbreaking,” Huey says. “I think all of us at some point went through the stages of grief.”
I really, really loved the intimate way of getting to know a culture and a people.
Faculty at BYU and at Qasid Arabic Institute, BYU’s partner for the program in Jordan, put together a stay-at-home version of the study abroad, or what Huey jokingly calls a “study in-broad.” Though the students stayed in Provo, they did intensive Arabic study involving online classes with Qasid personnel, one-on-one tutoring, and on-campus classes with BYU professor Spencer Scoville.
Though Huey was disappointed to not be in Jordan, she ended up appreciating her unique study-at-home semester. “It was definitely an enlightening experience,” says Huey. “I didn’t anticipate that I could learn as much as I did, learning online. There were still definitely some aspects that were lost by not being able to be in Jordan as I’d anticipated, but our teachers . . . were very dedicated to giving us a wonderful experience. So I was able to feel as immersed as possible in the language.”
Huey loves finally being at a point where she can say, “I can speak this language.” She con- tinues: “Maybe I’m still at an intermediate or low-advanced level, but I can talk to people and communicate what I’m thinking and understand them. It’s just so rewarding for me.”
Her career plan is to enter the Foreign Service. “For the Foreign Service, language is crucial,” she says. “You have to be able to communicate in any country. And I anticipate that if I do get into the Foreign Service, I’ll be able to at some point serve in the Middle East or Southeast Asia. . . . This is definitely foundational to everything that I’m hoping to do.”