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The Beauty of Human Connection

September 9, 2019

Headshot of Issraa El-Khatib

Headshot of Issraa El-Khatib
Photo by Phuong Tran, CLAgency student

Issraa El-Khatib spent summer 2018 with an internship in Toledo, Spain and taking a course on Christian, Muslim, and Jewish art. She talks about the significance she found in the ability to connect with classmates, professors, a host family, and her religion. “As a Muslim, it gave me a sense of familiarity and pride in a country that had seemed so foreign to me before,” she says.

Majors: Spanish studies, biology
Year in school: senior
Studied abroad in: Toledo, Spain, spring 2018

How did you choose your program?

This program was perfectly in sync with my needs and interests. It allowed me to fulfill credits for my Spanish major while completing an internship in the health field. I was able to practice all the Spanish that I had learned from courses. Furthermore, I am particularly interested in Spain’s history, especially when it comes to its medieval history and how the different religious groups (Muslim, Jewish, and Christian) had their influences on the architecture and culture. Therefore, it was a perfect program that fit my academic, career, and personal interests.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time abroad?

My favorite memory from my time abroad was our visit to Granada. We visited the Alhambra Palace and its beauty was beyond my imagination. The details on the walls got more intricate the farther we got into the palace. I'll never forget one of the rooms that had a ceiling with star-like patterns where sunlight could pass through them during the day and the moonlight during the night. Furthermore, the ceilings had verses from the Quran etched onto them that talk about the magnificence of the moon, sun, and the planets. It was intended to be that way for guests to ponder and reflect upon these things. Not only was it architecturally beautiful, but it also allowed me to reflect upon the contributions of Muslims to the history and culture of Spain. As a Muslim, it gave me a sense of familiarity and pride in a country that had seemed so foreign to me before. 

How has studying another language and culture changed the way you approach the world?

Learning abroad has made me realize the beauty of being able to communicate with people of another culture and language. It has motivated me to read more about Spanish politics, history, and arts because I now feel like I have an obligation to be more aware and understanding of the similarities and differences between myself and others. I made many beautiful connections with my host family, fellow students, and professors, and I am hoping to be able to maintain those relationships.

Career-wise, this experience has forced me to rethink the possibilities that are out there for me as a Spanish major. I always thought that I would apply to a health professions school, but this experience showed me that I could continue with Spanish and have a great impact on my community and society at large. 

How did scholarships aid your experience?

The scholarships that helped me to go abroad meant a lot. I am so grateful to have had the support of donors to make my study abroad experience possible. I think many students of color, like myself, are deterred by the expenses of study abroad and this causes an imbalance in the representation of students on these trips. However, being able to afford the study abroad experience allowed me to bring a voice and perspective that is not heard as often and I was glad to be able to contribute in that way. 

This interview was conducted by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.