Name: Christian David
Hometown: Tempe, Ariz.
Major: Biology, Pre-Med
BS: Tell us about how you learned Arabic.
CD: My mom is Irish and Scottish, and her family has been in America for the past few generations. But my dad is a first-generation American. He was born in Pittsburgh, but his parents were basically fresh off the boat from Palestine when they had him. So he grew up speaking Arabic in an Arabic household, and for whatever reason, he didn’t really raise us bilingually. But I knew a little bit of Arabic growing up; he would speak to us a little bit. I got more interested in it when I thought, wow, that’s kind of neat that my dad speaks another language that [is] not very commonly spoken, at least in America. So I decided to try and learn to read and write, and I still don’t know how to speak very well, but I can get by in a conversation and understand a fair amount. I visit my grandparents a lot and try to speak it with them. I usually have a book to read, and I’ll try to read it with them. I usually never know what’s going on, but they teach me a lot.
BS: How was the walk on the Appian Way that your class hosted in Rome?
CD: It was a really amazing opportunity that I was able to participate in. A few students, at the suggestion of Dr. [Christopher] Mirus, decided to do something about the Syrian civil war: Jake Newstreet, Angelo Novello, Olivia Hayes and a few other people. They got together and did some research about what the conflict was about and what was going on and where we could help out the most. So we decided that, along with a little presentation we had about the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis, to put together a walk to raise money for Catholic Relief [Services], because we knew [it was] a neutral, politically speaking, aid that was trying to provide aid for the refugees.
The idea for the walk actually came from Monsignor [Thomas] Fucinaro talking about the fact that for the Syrian people, particularly the Christians, pilgrimage is a big part of their worship. There was a Catholic priest, who was French and very active in Syria with the Christians there, and he passed away not long ago. But every year he would lead a five-day walking pilgrimage through Syria. In the spirit of that tradition, we decided that a walk would be the most appropriate thing to do, and we had the Appian Way. So we all got together. It was optional, but we had 50 or 60 people show up, all of them sponsored with donations, and we all walked 12 miles down the Appian Way from campus, all the way into Rome.
The refugees with us had been living in Rome for less than a year, and they had actually participated in the pilgrimage that I had mentioned in Syria. I speak a little bit of Arabic, just because my dad is Palestinian, and his parents are from the region, so I know a little bit and was able to converse with them in Arabic. They were very happy to see that someone knew their language, and it was a treat for me because how often do you get to do something like that? And it’s a cause that is close to my heart because there’s not a lot of Arab Christians, and my family’s ancestry is Christian in a part of the world where Islam has dominated for 1400 years. But the Christian roots of the Middle East are older than the Muslim roots. It’s a really cool thing to be able to meet people who are of the same heritage and going through something that’s impossibly difficult to imagine. It’s so sad what’s going on there. But it was a blessing to make something positive out of all of that.
BS: How did you start off your 10-day?
CD: There were a couple of earthquakes in Italy while we were there. One of them was … a big earthquake that Rome felt a little bit but it was mostly concentrated north of Rome, in Norchia. The monastery there experienced a lot of damage, to the point where they couldn’t really use much of their monastery any more because it had been condemned. So they had to relocate to a place up the mountain, which was an older monastery, [built in the] 1600s or something, and they were pretty much living in rough conditions up there, like in tents.
They needed help with basic chores for keeping themselves warm during the winter and things. Jake Newstreet and I went the first few days of our 10-day to help them out. We wound up just carrying a bunch of firewood, which was actually pretty cool, because there [were] 12,000 pounds of firewood that got dropped off, and in two days, we two and a couple of the monks just carried it by hand all the way up to their storage area. It felt good to do something like that.
All the monks were born in America, and one guy was from Canada. They all spoke English and were very, very nice. They all treated us so well there that it was really more like a vacation than a volunteer thing. They put us up in a really nice bed and breakfast in Norchia. It was a great experience to be able to visit the place where St. Benedict was born, especially considering the fact that we got to see the cathedral while we were there. It was damaged, but still standing.
A few weeks after we went there, another earthquake hit and it basically totalled the cathedral. I don’t think it’s still standing. And it prevented a lot of other people from going up there to volunteer. So I’m very, very lucky that I got to go.
BS: What did you do for the rest of your 10-day?
CD: The rest of 10-day, I went to Scotland, and that was interesting. I was only in Scotland for the day, and I spent the whole day at [the University of] St. Andrews. I’m a huge golf fan, it’s my sport, and so I went up to the old course there to walk around and everything. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was born there, so I had some ancestry there. It’s gorgeous. Scotland and Ireland were probably my favorite places to visit. A group of friends and I decided to go to Scotland and Ireland over 10-day, and we became pretty good friends from it.
From Scotland, we went right over to Ireland for a few days, [costing] 20 Euro on RyanAir round trip. We went to Dublin, then started getting on buses and going across the whole country. [We visited] Galway for a couple of days, then down to Doolin, then the Cliffs of Moher, and I took one day to play golf at this course in Ireland that’s pretty famous.
It’s called Ballybunion, a good old fashioned Gaelic name. It was just magnificent.It was something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid, so that was awesome. The Irish people are warm and friendly … the Europeans in general are hospitable and kind, but the Irish are just funny. They have a great perspective on life because they can laugh at things that are actually funny. Very light-hearted people. And Guinness too, Guinness is great.
BS: What’s one of your hobbies?
CD: Cooking. Last semester before Rome, I was really interested in cooking, but then I went to Europe and pretty much ate my way around Europe, I guess you could say. Everywhere I went, I wanted to find the signature dish and the good restaurants, so I really had a great experience eating the food there, and it made me really interested in cooking these foods and the way these foods are prepared. I got pretty into cooking, and when I got back, I made an Italian dinner for my family.
For an appetizer, I made bruschetta with ricotta and honey that I got from Greece. I made carbonara and veal saltimbocca, and I actually made gelato for dessert. I didn’t have an ice cream or gelato maker, so it’s sort of a lengthy process of freezing it, stirring it [and] re-freezing it. They really liked it, and I was really happy to be able to do that for them. When I was over there, the whole time I felt a little bad because I thought, man, this is so great but I wish my family was here to experience it with me. So it was nice to give them a little taste.
Interested in being featured here? Contact Bridget Safranek at