5/11/2019 Gregory L. Wright

Williamson Medalist’s Time at F&M Fuels Passion for Being a Diplomat

Yousra Chaabane had never set foot in the United States, let alone on the Franklin & Marshall campus, until she arrived for F&M’s first-year student orientation in August 2015. Yet her time as a Diplomat at the College has been so rewarding that she is now more determined than ever to pursue a career in diplomacy after she completes her graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, beginning this fall.

Chaabane is this year’s recipient of the Williamson Medal, the College’s most prestigious award for student achievement. She received the medal recognizing her contributions as a scholar and a student leader at F&M’s May 11 Commencement, as she graduated summa cum laudewith a major in government and a minor and honors in Area Studies Middle East.

Chaabane comes from a small town in the central Dutch province of Gelderland and completed her high school studies in Hong Kong. There, at a college fair, an F&M admission counselor talked to her about the College. “I was especially drawn to the College House system,” Chaabane recalled. “My high school had a similar living-learning system of housing and I really enjoyed it. Franklin & Marshall immediately became my first choice, and I applied and was accepted.”

  • Williamson Medalist Yousra Chaabane '19 told her fellow students, "As different as we, as individuals, may be, we have consistently been brought together by a passion for learning and a fascination with the unknown." Williamson Medalist Yousra Chaabane '19 told her fellow students, "As different as we, as individuals, may be, we have consistently been brought together by a passion for learning and a fascination with the unknown." Image Credit: Eric Forberger

Chaabane’s academic research has focused on state stability and social capital in the Middle East. She recently defended her honors thesis, F&M’s first conducted in International Studies. Using field research she gathered in Jordan, it examines the effects of social capital on ethnic relations in that country, specifically between the two largest ethnic groups, Transjordanians and Palestinian-Jordanians.

“My dad’s Moroccan, so I’ve always been interested in that part of the world,” she explained. “Politics has always interested me as well. I think political and social issues in the Middle East are among the most fascinating things we can examine.”

Chaabane’s intellectual curiosity has led her to study these important issues all over the world—in Jordan and South Africa, as well as at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. In a few months, she begins the master’s program in international relations and politics at the University of Cambridge in England, where she will continue her research, assisted by a Global Grant Scholarship from the Rotary Club, which will cover nearly all of her costs.

Chaabane calls her academic experience at F&M “the perfect representation of the liberal arts. My education here has been rigorous, but I’ve been supported by professors who assisted me all along the way. I just completed an independent study that was a guided reading class. There were only four of us in the class and through a series of readings, we took a deep dive into Orientalism, which is basically how the West views and studies the Middle East. And that course was taught by Professor (Sylvia) Alajaji, who chairs the Department of Music and reviewed my honors thesis. I know that sort of educational opportunity doesn’t happen at larger colleges.”

Chaabane is fluent in Dutch and English, has an advanced understanding of Arabic, and has knowledge in French and German. Sheis particularly proud of her efforts to attract fellow international students to F&M and support them when they enroll. She is president of the International Student Advisory Board, where she has been a member for three years, and has been a tour guide for the Office of Admission for four years. She served as a student interviewer for that office, talking to prospective students around the globe via Skype.

“I care deeply about my fellow international students,” she said. “International students make up about 20 percent of the total student body, but our problems and issues aren’t always the first ones considered. We talk about diversity a lot on campus; international students are important to that diversity.” 

Her experiences in admission also have forced her to reflect on her start as a Diplomat. “I interview international students who are so motivated and intelligent. It’s an exciting snapshot of F&M’s future,” Chaabane said. “Nearly all of them clearly have done lots of research in their college search, much more than I did. Looking back, I was very lucky.”

Chaabane has earned numerous honors and awards, including the Marshall Fellowship, the Dana Scholarship, the George W. Wagner Political Science Prize, the Sidney Wise Public Service Fellowship, the Elana Stein Memorial Fellowship, and the Paul Mueller Student Travel Award. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha, and Pi Gamma Mu. She is a member of Black Pyramid Senior Honor Society, where she organized interfaculty debates on important issues. She has been a Ware Mentor, a Ware College House Adviser, an intern in the Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development, and a session facilitator for the 2016 Day of Dialogue. She has served as the chair of Diplomatic Congress’s Academic Life Committee and as a member of the Faculty Committee on International and Off-Campus Study, and the Board of Trustees Enrollment Committee.

After her studies at Cambridge, Chaabane wants to become a diplomat. “It’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. It is a logical progression from my studies and my research, and it’s a way for me to make a difference,” she said. “It’s important to engage with the larger world and to be involved. I’d love to be stationed in the Middle East and I’d like to work for the United Nations or the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’m sure I’ll meet other people who will inspire me, just as I did here at Franklin & Marshall.”

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