Molly Courtney, ’15, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. In high school, she decided she wanted to learn Arabic; rather than do so in an American classroom, she chose to spend a year as a foreign exchange student in Egypt, living with a host family and immersing herself in the language.
“I was interested in studying Arabic because it was a less commonly studied language and it seemed like it would be difficult,” Courtney says. “I thought that going abroad would be a good way to learn a language that is difficult to learn. While it was hard feeling like I was in the position of making all these cultural mistakes that I didn’t even know I was making, I learned so much and I’m really glad that I did it.”
Courtney came to Richmond knowing that she wanted to continue learning Arabic; she paired her language studies with a double major in international studies with a concentration in world politics and diplomacy. Having already studied Arabic intensively for a year, she soon found that she had exhausted the language course offerings that were available. “I took 400-level Arabic my sophomore year,” she says, “which left me with two years to figure out what else I wanted to do with the language.”
She found support and mentorship with professor Walid Hamarneh, who suggested she undertake a summer research fellowship translating 19 short stories by Jordanian and Palestinian authors — many of whom were women — from Arabic to English.
Translation offered Courtney a new challenge. “Literary translation is much harder than conversation; you have to worry about figurative language and how to translate an idiom,” she says. “Translating involves striking a balance between making it sound as it should, and making it sound natural. It’s a lot more complicated than just swapping words.”
To complete the project, Courtney spent time in Amman, Jordan last summer, where Hamarneh helped her find an apartment and introduced her to some of the authors whose stories she translated. “I had the chance to speak with three of the authors,” she says. “It was interesting to hear about their lives and meet the person behind the story. I’m glad that Walid had these connections with people and was able to introduce me.” The stories that Courtney translated are now being edited and prepared for publication.
Courtney highlights her relationships with Hamarneh and Arabic and German professor Martin Sulzer-Reichel as one of her favorite parts of her time at Richmond. “There are so many experiences I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for them,” she says. “I feel I’ve done everything I possibly could with Arabic, and it’s because they have been there showing me things I could do and helping me get there.”
Courtney’s experiences prepared her for her next challenge — a doctoral program at UCLA in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. “I want to be a professor and teach Arabic, but I also would really like to do literary translation,” she says. “I enjoyed it a lot and I’m glad I had my summer research experience so that I could discover that. I don’t think I necessarily would have otherwise.”