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For Boehland, the intellectual challenge involved not Islamist terrorism per se but the entire Middle East. Prior to 9/11, and her life-changing walk out of creative writing class, she had never traveled outside North America. She says she didn't even know the difference between Egypt and Jordan.
Traveling to Egypt to study at the American University for six months was a huge leap of faith on her part. But once there she was hooked. She wanted to understand the region and its culture.
"[The Middle East] was a place where things happened. It was a place where there were revolutions and wars," she says. "It felt like an amazing, almost epic novel, especially coming from Minnesota where the history is not that epic. I found that fascinating."
Lewis & Clark College did not have an Arabic program, so after her return to the United States, Boehland enrolled in transfer classes at Portland State University. For the rest of her time as a student, she rode her bike an hour each day to take Arabic. She says that after her graduation in 2005 recruiters from the Central Intelligence Agency approached everyone in her Arabic class about possible work.