chelseavillarealWhen the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) convenes on Thursday, Sept. 26, at Barnard College for a Global Conversation: “Why the UN Must Focus on Women’s Leadership,” Chelsea Villareal ’14 will represent Smith among several student participants in the symposium.

Villareal, who focuses on Arabic linguistics and Middle East studies at Smith, has made a point of living in and gaining insight to other parts of the world, having studied in London, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon while at Smith. She intends to return to the Middle East following graduation to take part in a yearlong Arabic immersion program, then to pursue a graduate degree in Arabic sociolinguistics.

Villareal’s broad travels and multicultural experiences are part of her long-term vision to create a cooperative global society in which people with disparate backgrounds and beliefs work together to overcome modern challenges. She has worked with several nonprofit organizations, including Soliya, which uses new media to facilitate dialogue between people in the predominantly Muslim world and those in the mostly non-Muslim world, such as North America and Europe. She also recently joined Western Massachusetts-based Critical Connections, a team dedicated to spreading understanding and awareness of Islam and the Muslim diaspora.

The WPSP event will host a panel of prominent women in leadership positions globally for a panel discussion on key issues facing women today. Among the panelists will be Jane Harman ‘66, director, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Student representatives at the WPSP symposium will participate in a series of workshops and lectures emphasizing leadership skills and preparation for careers in public service. Villareal recently responded to questions about her scholarship and upcoming participation in the WPSP event.

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wpsindexGate: What are some ways your involvement with WPSP tie in with your academic interests?

Chelsea Villareal: WPSP brings together a coalition of highly motivated and ambitious young women whose passions run the gamut from global education development to international human rights security. I am honored and humbled to be associated with this group of budding leaders, who will inevitably change the way our generation approaches modern global challenges. I aspire to be a leader in intercultural dialogue facilitation and international human development. The opportunity to gain leadership experience and network through this event helps me reach out to like-minded individuals who seek to advance humankind through deeper engagement in global conversations.

Gate: How might broadening leadership among women worldwide assist your goals of greater global cooperation?

CV: My goal for greater global cooperation stems from my deep-rooted beliefs in liberty and equality. I believe in giving all genders an equal voice in public policy and international affairs broadly. The goals of the WPSP initiative coincide with my own in envisioning a world fashioned upon the values of social justice and equality, where individuals across cultures, socioeconomic strata, religions, and all other social divides contribute equally to the discussion of global issues.

Gate: How do your experiences living, studying and working in a range of places around the world inform your academic goals?

CV: My experiences abroad were the number one factor that led me to focus on Arabic and Middle East studies at Smith. Going to Jordan early in my undergraduate career, during the summer after my first year, helped me connect with the culture and language I was studying. The friendships I made and places I visited suddenly gave depth and meaning to my work. Above all, I have found that the process of discovering new places and new cultures has a way of influencing broader aspects of my life and my personality; when immersed in an unfamiliar setting we become more alert, curious, and reflective. When this new perspective is applied to familiar surroundings, we begin to notice details we once took for granted. I think that is the most crucial way in which studying and living abroad formed a lasting impact on my life: by providing me with a critical awareness of my surroundings that can reshape how I conceptualize a variety of circumstances.

Gate: Why did you choose to focus on linguistics as a way to assist your endeavors to create a collaborative society across cultures, ethnicities, beliefs and nationalities?

CV: I conform, to some degree, to the neo-Whorfian school of thought regarding how culture is related to language and thought. The theory states that culture determines the semantic encoding of a language; thus, culture is responsible for supplying meaning in any language and this language influences thinking within its respective culture(s). It follows, then, that language-learning is not merely a means of communicating with an “other” but of coming to understand a new way of conceptualizing the world and understanding an unfamiliar experience. In this way, language-learning is to cross-cultural enthusiasts as medical school is to aspiring physicians: logical, necessary, and instructive.