Daily Inter Lake , Whitefish High graduate travels abroad to learn Arabic

Makkie Haller has set her sights on working for the U.S. Department of State. In doing so, the 2017 Whitefish High School graduate has focused her efforts over the past couple of years on learning Arabic.

“It’s a long-term dream of mine to work in the U.S. Department of State,” Haller said.

Haller recently returned from Morocco where she studied Arabic on a merit based National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship through the U.S. Department of State with the American Councils for International Education. The scholarship program aims to provide language immersion opportunities abroad for students to learn Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian or Russian. The program aims to advance international dialogue and increase American economic global competitiveness while promoting cross-cultural understanding and deepening trust, according to www.nsliforyouth.org. Of course, in addition to those goals, the mission of the program is also “to spark a lifetime of interest in foreign language and culture.”

The language study was intensive.

“I was taking Arabic classes from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Haller said. “My class only had five American students in it. The best way to learn a language is a small class size. It was very interactive.”

Evenings were spent in cultural activities. During her stay in Morocco she was able to experience the end of Ramadan, an Islamic holy month of fasting and introspection that is observed daily from sunrise to sunset.

“My host sisters slept all day because fasting is exhausting,” Haller said. “After they break the fast at sundown, everyone is out having fun.”

Eating dates was her host family’s traditional way to break the fast.

At the end of Ramadan she and her host family went to Marrakesh for a big celebration.

She also traveled to Fez, the second largest city in northeastern Morocco known for it’s medieval architecture, culture and World Heritage Site status.

“It is a very old city, one of the oldest still functioning,” Haller said.

She also traveled to Rabat, the capital of Morocco.

This isn’t the first time Haller has studied abroad. Last year she lived with a host family in Cairo, Egypt.

And while Americans may hear about unrest in these parts of the world, Haller said, “It’s really hard to have a full concept of the place before you’ve been there. Being there and interacting with everyday people is very different.”

Haller later added, “I definitely think it was a life-changing experience. Having met all the different people really opens your perspective.”

While Haller has studied French all four years of high school it was Arabic that she was drawn to in opening up future career and travel possibilities.

“I’ve always been interested in that part of the world. It’s somewhere I wanted to travel,” Haller said.

Arabic is a difficult language for English speakers to master Haller said.

“Arabic is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. I’ve definitely improved a lot,” Haller said with a laugh. “It’s all about practice.”

In the fall she will attend the Davidson Honors College at the University of Montana on a Presidential Leadership Scholarship to study political science with a focus on international affairs and minor in Arabic.

During high school Haller competed in Extemporaneous Speaking, which focuses on international and national current events, and social and political issues.

“You draw topics and have 30 minutes to research it both international and domestic topics,” Haller said.

Haller also was involved in starting a Model United Nations club during her junior year.

Haller said the friendships she made with international exchange students who came to Whitefish High School also played a part in her desire to study abroad.

Her trips abroad have only increased her appetite to continue traveling. She said she would like to visit Jordan next, but like many people who have been bitten by the traveling bug, she added — “I’m open to anything,”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or [email protected]