I took my first Arabic class last fall at my local college, and I immediately fell in love with the snail-like squiggly letters. My teacher was from Morocco and had come to the states on a Fulbright to teach; it was funny to listen to him pick up colloquialisms that we use in America. During that class, I realized that I wanted to make Arabic a greater part of my life. It was only a semester long class, but after four years of learning Spanish, I realized that I was ready for something different and more exotic.
When people found out that I, a redheaded midwestern girl, was taking Arabic, there were a couple of different responses. I was told that I'd never be able to use the language, because, "as everyone knows," Arabs "don't respect women." I was asked if I was trying to "pick up a terrorist." To me, this represented all kinds of ugly strains of ethnocentricity. It angered and saddened me. Several times, I got blank stares, and I was asked, "What are you going to do with that- exactly?"
There were, of course, a handful of people who were enthusiastic and supportive of my choice. For the record- I'm really not sure what I'm going to do with this language. At this point, a job working for the State Department seems like it could be a good fit. I've read several books about the history of Islamic civilization, the current political situation in the Middle East, and all of the things that are wrong with current American foreign policy. I like to think that, someday, I can be involved in fixing the problems.