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Alumni Spotlight: Tsolin Nalbantian

Tsolin Nalbantian

Tsolin Nalbantian graduated from the BA program in Middle Eastern Studies in 1999. Initially thinking she would pursue a career in journalism after graduation, she returned to Cairo where she had studied abroad in her junior year to continue working on her Arabic as a Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA) fellow. When she returned to the U.S., she was awarded a graduate fellowship to attend New York University to pursue an MA in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies. Her first day of class was September 11 (yes, that September 11!) and over the course of her two-year study there, she decided to switch gears and pursue a career in academia. She found the ever-increasing pressure to simplify everything about the Middle East — its inhabitants, history, social, political, cultural, and economic life — into shorter and shorter articles frustrating. Feeling that long-term interest and engagement in the region suited her better, she studied at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University where she received her PhD in 2011. She is currently Assistant Professor of Modern Middle East History at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her research and teaching interests include Armenian communities of the Middle East, Middle East diasporas, the contemporary history of Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, and how marginal members of society use state and local power in an effort to claim political and social agency. Her book, Armenians Beyond Diaspora: Making Lebanon Their Own (University of Edinburgh Press), examines specific episodes of crisis and tension to demonstrate how Armenians used the sectarian system of Lebanon and Cold War tensions for their own means.

What advice would you give to students?

Spend extended time in the region and learn (and keep learning!) the language. My junior year abroad at GW really set the tone for my professional career and personal life. The exposure I had while in Cairo and then traveling throughout the region was unparalleled. It was super fun but also really difficult at times and learning a language as an adult is simultaneously humbling and an exciting enterprise. Plus, those experiences helped me qualify for fellowships later on in graduate school and helped me get into graduate programs in the first place. They also steered my research and teaching interests that I have today.

Who was your favorite professor at GW?

Probably a three-way tie: my Arabic teachers Samia Montasser and David Mehal for encouraging me and keeping me on track with the language, and Nathan Brown for helping me graduate on time!