I met Louisa Abel ’18 on the first day of classes as a terrified first-year in Arabic 101. She came off as super cool and totally unafraid, so, naturally, I didn’t think there was any chance we’d be friends. Three-and-a-half semesters of struggling through Arabic later, we decided to live together during our fall semester in Egypt next year. I got together with my future roommate to learn a little more about her life as a world traveler, language student, coxswain, cook and bagel connoisseur.
You’re an Arabic studies major: How did you get into that?
I don’t really know what started me on the Arabic path. I’m also taking German on campus, and I took French in high school. I knew I was interested in languages, and I wanted to do something that could open up international doors for me, whether in business or in politics. I started with Arabic just to see where it went, and it went really far. I love it. And you and I are hopefully going to be roommates in Cairo next year, which will be awesome. I haven’t been to the Middle East yet, so I’m still seeing where it will take me. But hopefully you and I will learn a lot more Arabic next year. That’ll be really interesting because, you know, the Arabic we learn in class isn’t what’s spoken on the streets there. Arabic in Egypt is different from what’s spoken in Lebanon or different countries, so that’ll be a really interesting experience for us.
You’re also taking German this year?
I’m actually in this class called “Turbo Deutsch” with some other really awesome people on campus. It’s German 101 and 102 in one semester. So my days are pretty much filled with flashcards, between Arabic and German. But it’s been a really incredible experience. My professor is really awesome for designing this class for the first time. My mom has been really supportive, if you count being really supportive as only texting me in German since the first day of the class. Exclusively. Like, before I spoke any German.
So you’ve never been to the Middle East – why did you choose to go to Egypt next year?
Well in talking to our professor, she outlined different countries that were options, and Egypt had this really rich culture that really appealed to me. I want to do something different – I’ve lived abroad before, and I really wanted a totally different experience.
When we talk about where we were born in Arabic class, you always have something interesting to say.
Yeah. I went to school in Seattle, but my dad was in the Marines, so I moved a lot as a kid. It’s interesting because Williams will be the longest I’ve lived somewhere – Williams and Seattle. When I graduate, I’ll have lived in both places for four years.
Where have you lived?
Since my dad was in the Marines, we would go to the same bases a couple of times. I was born in Seoul, Korea and then I moved to Virginia, and then California and then Japan, on base as well, although I actually went to school off base, which was crazy because I didn’t speak any Japanese. For about half a year, I went to school off base at a Japanese speaking school because I was in-between grades, and it would have been a long time for me to be out of school. So I was like, “Mom, Mom, I want to go to school,” which is weird. But I feel like that was the first marking that I was going to be a Williams kid.
Wow. So how many different schools have you gone to?
Oh, I don’t know. A fair amount. But I like it! I think a lot of people here at Williams have travelled a lot so it’s been nice coming to a community where people get that or don’t find this weird. In high school, everyone was like, “What do you mean?” People just didn’t understand it. Seattle is known for this thing called the “Seattle Freeze,” where people look really nice on the exterior but it takes a long time to get to know them. And so it was it was nice being here with people who have so many backgrounds.
Coming to Williams for the first time – was that nothing for you?
It was definitely really comforting that I would get to come here and get to know a group of people and be able to keep friends all the way through. As opposed to high school where people came in with their friend groups already set, it was really nice coming to Williams where everybody has a fresh start.
You’re a coxswain for the crew team. I remember last year when we did an Arabic group project together you were kind of coxing us.
I think that people sometimes think that I’m more in control of situations or bossier than I actually am – they’ll turn to me before I even know anything, or they’ll assume that I’m going to be bossy and know what I’m talking about, which is usually not the case.
What’s it like when you’re out on the water, telling people what to do?
So it isn’t really telling people what to do. What I really like about crew is that there’s no other sport where you’re really working together as one. There’s an individual aspect where you get to do what you’re trying to do, whether it be rowing and pulling hard or coxing and organizing everyone else, but it’s also this really unified feeling. You really can’t do well if the other eight people in your boat aren’t on board and aren’t giving everything that they can. So my job is to steer the boat straight, make the correct calls and help the boat run really smoothly. The rowers are doing the really incredible thing, and I’m just trying to help them. I like it because in the nature of the sport you have to constantly be improving. I think this is true of a lot of things people do on campus, whether it be a cappella or whatever, and I’m really fortunate that I’ve found things on campus that have catered to my desire to constantly improve. I am so competitive with myself.
You do Log Lunch – I assume that means you like to cook?
I love to cook… I just made stir-fry for lunch. It’s hard to cook good food in college. It takes so much planning in advance. But I really do love to cook, and Log Lunch has been really funny because when I cook by myself it’s usually one egg for a recipe or maybe a three egg omelet, but we made frittata for Log Lunch a couple of weeks ago and it was 150 eggs. Normally [where a recipe calls for] a pinch of something at Log Lunch, it becomes like two full glass containers of it. So it’s definitely a very different kind of cooking. It’s a really awesome team of people, so I’m really lucky. I worked my way up by doing the dishes first. Oh! Ask me what my Winter Study was.
What was your Winter Study?
I did a Winter Study independent project with two of my friends called “Bagels Bagels Bagels.” I wrote a 15-page paper about the market history and economic circumstances of the bagel. It was fantastic! If you ever have any questions about bagels, talk to me. It was really cool. We went to New York and ate bagels, some prime bagels.
How many bagels do you think you ended up eating?
I think I probably tasted 50 or so in the three-and-a-half week period. When we went to New York, we split them up because we didn’t want our objective bagel taste test to be tainted by being full. We would get a bagel from each place and then split it in to thirds and eat it. So we have a comprehensive list. It was pretty scientific. It was very grueling – it was like three or four days, so it was an intense winter study experience. By the end of the day, we’d literally only eaten bagels and were so stuffed yet so hungry because we didn’t even eat them with cream cheese at most of the places.
Did you like doing an independent Winter Study?
I don’t know if I would do an independent study again. You know those movies where suddenly someone wakes up an adult and they’re like, “All the freedom!” – all candy, party all the time. Doing a Winter Study on bagels is kind of like that because you have no schedule except you have to bake and research about bagels. So you have all this time, but then at the end of [Big] or 13 Going On 30, Tom Hanks is like, “Oh, maybe all this freedom and adulthood isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be.” I need a little more direction in my life – I don’t think I’m ready to be an adult yet. I definitely think I do better with a little more time constraint, with language classes everyday, practice and stuff like that.
You’re not ready to be an adult yet?
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