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Seek Truth(s) in the Middle East

In spring semester of her junior year Winona Hawker-Boehnke’14 went on an off-campus program to Jordan to learn more about the U.S. role in the Middle East.

As she travelled the country Hawker-Boehnke made strong bonds with new friends, learned more about Jordanian culture, but most importantly realized there was not just one truth about the Middle East.

After two and a half years of learning Arabic and studying the region, four months in Jordan became an eye-opening experience for her. Living, learning, and working there changed her understanding of many things.

She says Jordan was a place where she had the most enlightening conversations about the U.S. and the Middle East. She recalls a particular conversation with Jordanian women when they shared their thoughts about the U.S. involvement, women’s right, class issues, the Arab Spring, and many others.

“What I took away most from that afternoon was the feeling of being challenged about my own country and theirs of my eyes being opened to different understandings of topics I previously claimed to know and understand,” she says.  “This was the beauty of my time in Jordan; this exchange was not a rarity.”

She says the program in Jordan was the best experience Earlham could offer her to continue studying the region.

Do-it-Yourself Major

During her first two years at Earlham, Hawker-Boehnke took many classes about Middle East, as well as Arabic language classes. She was certain that because of the role that the U.S. plays in the region, an institution like Earlham that values justice, advocacy, and seeking truth, should have a major about Middle East. So Hawker-Boehnke proposed a self-designed major in Middle East and Arab Studies and got it approved.

She believes her major is one of the best ways to seek truth at Earlham. “Every class in my major was about finding the truth about America’s role in a region,” she says.

She came to Jordan with a lot of knowledge received at Earlham, yet she realized there was much more to explore and learn.

While on a program Hawker-Boehnke started her own research project called “Performance and presence of homoeroticism and homosexuality in a familial societal context.”  She refers to it as a life-long research project and says the main reason for it is that there is not enough research on homosexuality in the Middle East. “That means that doing the work means lots of interviews, meeting people, listening to their stories, and finding trends. I started that journey,” she says.

As Hawker-Boehnke continued studying the region, the idea of truth became more complicated for her. She says she has learned in her major and during her trip to Jordan that there is not one truth for everyone.  “Trying to find what’s the most true, what’s the most honest and just [became my] new journey,” she says.

(Written by Anastasia Vladimirova ’15)


Winona Hawker-Boehnke

Winona Hawker-Boehnke 2014

Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.

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