When Stephen Allen (CAS'12) tells people he's a French language and literature major, he gets blank looks. When he follows up with, “and I'm an Arabic minor,” he says the response is always the same: “Oh, so you will have a job.” While he appreciates encouragement for learning Arabic, he says the dismayed reaction to French shows just how uninformed many people are about the language's place in the world.
A double major in French and African studies, Allen plans to use both French and Arabic as preparation for graduate work in African linguistics. His goal is to work in West Africa in language and literacy, for which French is essential. A holdover from colonial times, the language of education in much of West Africa is either French or English, despite only a minority of the population being able to speak either. “People in West Africa are unable to go to school because they can't speak French or English,” he says. “I want to help develop programs that allow them to use their local language to learn a European language, so eventually they could have access to education.” To this end, Allen is also learning Wolof, a local language of Senegal and other African nations that derives its written form from an Arabic script.
Allen's interest in African studies grew out of taking Arabic his freshman year, which led him to study abroad for a semester in Morocco, where he got his first taste of Africa. Living in a homestay in the medina, the older section of the capital city of Rabat, was, he says, “one of the most challenging experiences of my life,” as he was unfamiliar with the Arabic dialect and at first unable to communicate with his host family. Living in a local household immersed him in Moroccan culture, from visiting a hammam—the traditional Moroccan public bathhouse—with his host father and brother, to eating every meal with his host family. He says he still misses the food, especially kefta, a type of meatball you eat with bread.
Allen is continuing along his unique BU path by spending his final senior semester abroad in Paris. “By taking an internship working with African refugees,” he says, “I am beginning to apply my education to a specific field, and building a foundation for grad school. I'm not done yet.”