BRATTLEBORO -- Ethan Reichsman wants to study Arabic language specifically because he thinks it is important for more Americans to understand Middle Eastern culture.
When he applied for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth through the U.S. State Department his first choice was spending a semester in Morocco learning the language.
Reichsman, 16, and a junior at Brattleboro Union High School, was admitted to the program and he was supposed to fly to Washington, D.C., this past Saturday to take part in a three-day orientation before heading on to Marrakech, Morocco.
Late Friday, after returning from a final dinner out with his family, Reichsman received an emergency notification from the State Department informing him that the program was being postponed while program officials assess the deteriorating situation in the Arab world.
Now he and his family are keeping a close watch on the anti-American protests that are spreading across the region as they wait for word when, and if, he will be going to the Middle East this semester.
"It's disappointing because I was packed and ready to go," he said Monday. "But I guess it makes sense while they figure out what is going on. I'm still hopeful I'll be able to travel."
The National Security Language Initiative for Youth is a special program that the State Department established to bring American students to study languages in "critical need"
Scholarships are offered to study languages in countries such as Russia, China, Korea and Turkey.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Libya on Sept. 12 after protests broke out in response to an American video that critics say disrespects the prophet Mohammed. Over the next few days additional protests broke out in Egypt, Yemen and other countries in the region.
Reichsman said he didn't think the unrest would affect his plans until the e-mail message arrived on Friday night.
Small, peaceful protests were held in Morocco's largest city, Casablanca, and then in Marrakech, which Reichsman expected to visit next week.
Now he is waiting to find out what will happen to his plans.
Reichsman is not enrolled at BUHS because he was expecting to spend the semester overseas.
Now he is waiting to hear about his next step.
The International Herald Tribune reported Saturday that Morocco is emerging as one of the most stable and important countries in North Africa.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the report, said Morocco was a "leader and a model."
Reichsman said the protests are unnerving, but he also said it shows the importance of sending young Americans there to build stronger bonds with the people in the Middle East.
He has already attended two other Arabic programs in the United States, and now he is waiting, and hoping that his planned journey to the region will not be postponed.
He is expecting to hear from the State Department at the end of this week.
"This whole situation shows how important it is to have Americans who know about Islamic culture," he said. "If there are more people in America who know about it, maybe things like this won't happen, or they will happen less. It only takes a couple of ignorant people to set off things like this in the Mid East."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow Howard @HowardReformer.