At the beginning of this academic year, Anna Swank became Kalamazoo College’s first Arabic-language professor. Originally from St. Cloud, Minnesota, Swank is a native English speaker who went to college under the premise of studying French. It was not until studying abroad in France in 2003 that Swank befriended many Arab immigrants and realized that she had never before been exposed to such a large Middle-Eastern population. She says she was rather taken aback by how little she knew about the Middle East.
“I was in the process of confronting how many stereotypes I had, while considering myself to be a highly educated person about to graduate from college,” she said. “I had to confront this huge lacuna in my cultural understanding.” She says this ultimately led to her decision to study Arabic during her senior year of college.
Upon graduating, Swank says she “fell in love” with the Arabic language and culture. She studied in Morocco for the summer of 2004. In the next decade, she obtained her Master’s Degree in Middle-Eastern Studies at NYU, spent a year abroad in Egypt, and led several student tours of Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. She continued to travel to the Middle East every year until 2013, when she and her husband Dr. Beau Bothwell, Assistant Professor of Music at Kalamazoo College, welcomed their first child, their daughter Heron.
When she’s not teaching Arabic, Swank enjoys teaching yoga, translating documents from Arabic into English for museums in the Middle East, and spending time with her daughter. She also plays the violin in the Kalamazoo Philharmonia. This summer, she and Beau plan to start a project translating the poetry and political writings of a friend from Arabic into English.