Kelsey Threatte 2009, recipient of the prestigious Watson Fellowship, recently returned to Ursinus to share her experience with students interested in the program. Every year the Watson Foundation funds motivated students like Kelsey to pursue a full year of independent study in an area about which they are deeply passionate. Kelsey’s project was entitled “Voice and Veil: The Power and Impact of Arab Women Poets on Society” and she set out to discover and interview women poets in the countries of United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Oman, and Spain.
Her goals certainly don’t sound easy to attain, especially when you consider that Kelsey knew just a little Arabic. However, Kelsey happily reported that most of the attention she garnered as a young American girl was more positive than not. She especially noted the hospitality of the people in her host countries, having stayed with 15 different families who invited her into their homes out of compassion for a lonely traveler.
According to Kelsey, this loneliness is all a part of the Watson experience, as fellows are required to stay out of the U.S. for an entire 365 days. Although being isolated from her family and home culture led to some of her “darkest moments,” Kelsey lent some advice to the Watson hopefuls present at the talk: don’t shut down who you are just because you are the only one like you around. By being strong, extroverted, and not afraid to reveal her heritage, she was able to connect on a human level with people she didn’t know at all.
Her journey led her to a 24-hour poetry session in the basement of a library in Oman and to a crowded family of nine living in a two-bedroom house in Jordan. By sitting in cafes with a book of poetry, seeing who might pop up, Kelsey found an incredible diversity of personalities and viewpoints. What’s more, Kelsey discovered not just the typical “veiled” Arab woman, but women with voice, women who were educating themselves, and women who represented “the future of the Arab world.”
Kelsey Threatte is currently teaching special education high school English for Teach for America. — By David Hysek 2011