We met with Valentina Marconi, a PG Arabic student alumni from Italy who has completed a Masters in Arab World Studies at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Universities Durham & Manchester. In an interview with Valentina we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself (name, origins, current degree/studies, academic background, university & graduation year, professions, etc.)
My name is Valentina Marconi, I am from Perugia, a historical city located in the heart of Italy and famous for its universities, a summer Jazz Festival and a painter called Pietro Vannucci. I hold a Bachelor in International Relations from the University of Perugia and a Master in Arab World Studies, a joint programme between the University of Edinburgh and Durham University. I graduated in January 2013. After that, I have been working in different fields, mostly journalism and as a research editor for Dow Jones. I mostly wrote about the Arab Spring, gender, human rights and migrations. In the last year, I co-produced two documentaries on the right to asylum in Europe: the first was shot in Serbia and the second in Catalonia.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I’ve been studying Arabic since 2010 and my current level is upper intermediate. During the Master course, I spent five months in Egypt and last summer I’ve been working intensively on my Arabic again, spending four months in Jordan.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I’ve tried to trace back my passion for Arabic to an event or an encounter for years by now, but my attempts at doing so left me with the conviction that my deep interest with this language cannot be attributed to a single factor. Since I was a teenager, I was deeply fascinated by languages, especially Arabic and Chinese. I think, beyond this, lies a deep curiosity for what looks different and challenging. I went on studying Arabic also because I was interested in understanding the politics of the region. If I am to identify a person who deeply inspired me, I could just think of Ilaria Alpi, a late Italian journalist expert of Middle East politics who was killed in Mogadishu in 1994, while investigating on weapons and illegal toxic waste traffic. She was just 32 years old and the truth about her death did not come to light yet.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
Yes, of course. I think ups and downs are part of the learning process. Especially after I graduate and went back to Italy, it was difficult to keep the level I had reached during the university years. Sometimes I was working in positions which did not require the use of Arabic and this made things more difficult. However, I have tried to always keep the door open, to exercise by myself, to actively practise with friends and keep my passion for this language alive.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
So far, I’ve been mostly working in journalism and media-related jobs. I plan to keep that in my life but I would also like to shift my interests toward research. Right now, I working on a PhD Proposal on refugees and state violence.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
I think everyone is different and to give a general advice is difficult. From my point of view, the best way to go about it is the following: first, make Arabic become an integral part of your life (through human relations, travels, real attachment to places); second, don’t obsess too much about accumulating new words but let the language gradually sink in in order to really own it; finally keep the love for it alive (which is the conditio sine qua non, I think).