Middle East Studies
Sophie Zacharakis

Sophie Zacharakis ’19.5 transferred to Brown as a sophomore and found a community within MES

Sophie Zacharakis

Middle East studies and cognitive science

Bedford, MA

Why did you decide to concentrate in Middle East studies?
I took Arabic as a freshman and fell in love with the language. I started taking classes on Middle Eastern history and politics to complement my language studies, but my primary academic focus at the time was neuroscience. When I transferred to Brown as a sophomore and began taking classes in the Middle East studies program, I realized that I both could and wanted to concentrate in both MES and CLPS. Over the last two years, Middle East studies has become my priority. The faculty, students, and staff in the department create a welcoming and engaging community that has been an integral aspect of my undergraduate experience. 

This summer, you worked at the "I Know I Can" Summer Academies (IKIC) in Ramallah, Palestine. What was that experience like?
This past summer I had the amazing opportunity and absolute privilege to work at the "I Know I Can" Summer Academies (IKIC) in Ramallah, Palestine. I worked with middle school students, whose program included English learning in the morning and electives, projects, and games in the afternoon. Working with the students at IKIC was a joy (as challenging as middle schoolers can be!) and the central aspect of my experience. However, what makes IKIC even more impactful is the time and care that they put into staff programming. From lectures by local activists to weekend trips to other cities and villages around Palestine, IKIC provided me with the local and historical context necessary to properly engage with my students, build connections outside of the IKIC community, and increase my capacity to do solidarity work upon my return home. 

What have been the most impactful MES courses you've taken and why?
Palestine versus the Palestinians with Professor Doumani is the course that led me to concentrate in Middle East studies. This seminar course gave me an in-depth understanding of Palestinian history and provided me with a space to share and learn with my peers. Professor Doumani's insights and encouragements during this course gave me the confidence and foundation to pursue a concentrated focus on Palestine during my studies at Brown. I also want to give a shout out to Professor Winder's Policing and Imprisonment in the Modern Middle East and Professor Al-Ali's Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East, both of which were amazing and formative MES seminar courses that I took at Brown. 

What advice would you give underclassmen?
If you're at all interested in the Middle East, take courses (and concentrate in) MES! The faculty is dedicated to not only their specialized topics and courses, but also to their students. MES courses provide not only an in-depth look at the primary topic, but a critical analysis of the Middle East and how it should (or should not) be studied and talked about. Also go to MES events! The department brings amazing speakers and the events are a great opportunity to learn more about a country or topic that courses may not cover.