McHENRY – Bridget Hansen is trying not to have any expectations about her upcoming two months in Oman because then "everything will be surprising and wonderful."
The University of Illinois - Chicago anthropology student and McHenry East High School grad won a State Department scholarship to study Arabic at an intensive, 10-week language program in the Middle Eastern country.
She'll spend about four hours a day, five days a week in classes with excursions to cultural sites. She'll also have a local language partner to work with.
Hansen leaves on June 11 on the trip, which will be her first time out of the country.
She's not nervous though.
"I wonder if I should be because everyone asks me that question," she said. "I always wanted to travel, to have adventures. Most people that love anthropology will tell you the same sort of thing, that they watched Indiana Jones and Brendan Fraser in 'The Mummy,' and they wanted to have adventures."
The scholarships are part of the National Security Language Initiative, a government effort to increase the number of Americans learning 13 critical languages, including Azerbaijani, Korean, Japanese and Russian.
Hansen started studying Arabic last fall after a course in Mesopotamian art and archaeology solidified an interest in the area. She's also studying Latin and took Japanese while at Marquette University.
"Language is, I think, the best way to begin to understand other cultures," Hansen said. "I think it's the foremost way we express ourselves as human beings. The Arabic language is very spiritual. The way they say hello [is] 'peace' and 'peace be upon you.'"
It's that spirituality that really appealed to Hansen who underwent some personal and economic struggles that forced her to leave Marquette before graduating.
After three years out of school, Hansen started attending the University of Illinois - Chicago part-time before resuming her studies full-time, taking the train to campus each day from where she lives in McHenry.
She's on track to graduate in December 2015 and is thinking of applying for future opportunities abroad through the Peace Corps or Fulbright scholar program before pursuing graduate studies and a career in anthropology.
At this point, though, she's exploring everything she finds interesting.