Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services
Taking The Road Less Traveled:
QUEENS COLLEGE ORTHODOX JEWISH STUDENT WINS
NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP; GOES TO EGYPT TO STUDY ARABIC
FLUSHING, NY, October 4, 2006 – “You’re out of your mind” is what many of Lauren Talerman’s friends told her when she announced she had won a scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt this past summer. After all, Talerman, an Orthodox Jewish female, would be traveling through an Islamic country during wartime. But she felt it was a challenge and an “exciting time to be in the Mid East.”
Meeting challenges is just part of life for Talerman. For a year she commuted two hours each way by subway and bus from her home in Brooklyn to attend Queens College as a CUNY Honors College student. (She has since moved to Flushing.) So competing for a national scholarship where summer study abroad is rarely awarded—and choosing to study in Egypt—did not seem all that unusual.
Talerman has a keen interest in international relations, particularly the Mid East, and a career goal in foreign policy. Before her trip to Egypt she could read and write modern standard (textbook) Arabic, but realized that a “true language-immersion experience” required study in an Arabic-speaking country. The David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarship—which awards up to $20,000 for study in a “region of the world crucial to U.S. interests” in exchange for a year’s service in the federal government—afforded her that opportunity.
For seven weeks Talerman took classes in colloquial Arabic, printed and oral media, and political texts at the American University in Cairo. The small and intense classes, taught by Egyptian professors, enabled her to be more conversant with Arabic, to read and understand the local media, and become more aware of perspectives, cultures, and politics different from her own.
Course work was supplemented by afternoon, evening, and weekend field trips organized by the university. These included a trip to Alexandria to see the pyramids, a cruise down the Nile, and an exploration of Cairo at night.
“I never felt uncomfortable traveling through Egypt,” says Talerman. “I met so many fascinating people and made a lot of friends from all around the world who had similar interests and career paths. Even though there were no synagogues or Kosher food available, I managed. For example, I ate either cooked vegetables, rice and yogurt, canned tuna brought from home, or LaBriute meals, which are self-heating and ready-to-eat.”
Talerman, who speaks fluent Hebrew and Spanish (her father is from Colombia), is majoring in political science and anthropology and hopes to minor in Arabic. In addition to her regular course work at the college, where she maintains a 3.9 GPA, she is executive editor of the Knight News; co-editor of the Journal of Jewish Studies; and serves on the President’s Strategic Planning Council.
“Most of my friends from Brooklyn chose to go away to school, but I don’t regret my decision to attend Queens College,” says Talerman, who passed up admission to Princeton. “I love it here! I get a personalized education and all the opportunities and experiences of an Ivy League college at one-tenth the price.”