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David Kanbergs

College: Hunter College
Awards: Beinecke Scholarship, 2016; U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies grant, 2016

He Digs Anthropology and Arabic

“Arabic is such an expressive and beautiful language, but it's daunting because the vocabulary is so huge," says David Kanbergs (Hunter College, '17). "There are so many specific words, like a verb to say someone became one-eyed."

With his upcoming B.A. in anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies, Kanbergs intends to pursue a doctorate in Arabic language and literature. Those studies will be supported by a 2016 Beinecke Scholarship, a $34,000 award given to 20 "young men and women of exceptional promise" so they can be "courageous in the selection of a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities and social sciences," the Beinecke website states. He will apply to graduate schools in the fall while finishing his baccalaureate.

He also won a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies grant to study in Morocco in Summer 2016.

Born and raised in California, he lived in Oregon after finishing high school in 2002. Eight years later, he was working in a warehouse, "where the only advancement was to inside sales," when his girlfriend landed a paid internship at the Museum of Modern Art. Since he also was playing electric bass and recording his own songs with various bands, New York was the place to be. He began working customer-service jobs and decided he didn't have a future in music.

Meanwhile, he read avidly and discovered anthropology. "I finally found something that I wanted to learn more about."

So, 11 years after high school, he enrolled at Hunter College. He found a mentor in Professor Jonathan Shannon (CUNY Ph.D., '01), who specializes in Arab and Mediterranean aesthetics, musical performance, and cultural politics. "His Anthropology of Art and Music course piqued my interest. I wanted to touch these cultures and see for myself." And you can't do that thoroughly without mastering the language.

He traveled to Jordan one winter session through Hunter's study abroad program and returned the following summer with a Hunter Anthropology Department Research and Training Program grant. His observations of Amman's rapidly modernizing Al-Abdali neighborhood led to a presentation this spring at Hunter's Undergraduate Research Conference, "Perceptions of Change: Narratives of Loss in Amman, Jordan."

Kanbergs says Christopher Stone of Hunter's Arabic Studies program inspired him to shift from anthropology to the Arabic language. Now, he and other advanced students study independently under Stone, reading contemporary novels and short stories.

Kanbergs would like to teach, undertake his own research and perhaps translate Arabic literature.