Ashley Estrela: Politics and International Affairs

Ashley Estrela: Politics and International Affairs

As a high school student, Ashley Estrela googled southern universities, and Wake Forest came up. She hadn’t heard of it before. Born and raised in Cape Cod, Mass., she knew she wanted to go to college somewhere warm. When she came to visit, she fell in love with Wake Forest’s campus; the size and the “feel of it” sold her. 

Fast forward four years and Estrela, now a political science major, with a double minor in Arabic and Middle East & South Asia Studies, will graduate Summa Cum Laude with multiple honors, including Phi Beta Kappa membership and the Senior Award for Excellence in Arabic.

Originally, Estrela planned to major in history, but after taking a course on comparative politics and a first-year seminar on power and descent in the modern Arab world, she switched her academic trajectory. She started learning Arabic in the fall of her sophomore year to gain a better understanding of the Middle East, her area of interest. That spring, she studied in Morocco, an Arabic speaking country in north Africa, where she interned for the United Nations.  

“It sounds cliché but studying abroad opened my eyes to a whole new world [starts singing the song from Aladdin],” she said of her experience. 

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Last summer, Estrela returned to Morocco as part of a Wake Forest Arabic immersion program where she helped teach Moroccan students English. 

Estrela said studying Arabic “opens the door to learn and communicate with people from different cultures all across the world.” 

Her Arabic professor, Darlene May, said Estrela was “passionate about Arabic from the get-go and dedicated to increasing her proficiency … Ashley is one of those students that professors love to have in their classes, hate to see move on and hope to stay in touch with.”

As part of her minor, Estrela took many courses focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Her U.S. Foreign Policy professor, Charles Kennedy said, “Her final exercise topped the class … I have encountered only a handful of students that have Ashley’s aptitude and work ethic.”

Her Arabic literature professor, A.Z. Obeidat, referred to Estrela as “a voice of rationality and justice.”

While passionate about her studies, Estrela is equally passionate about bolstering her community. She served as chair of the Student Union Culture and Community committee and, most recently, the Director of Concerts. Although the concert was cancelled, along with the rest of the semester, planning a major event was an event in and of itself.  

Jokingly, she said “it’s more than writing an email ‘Dear Mr. Bryce Vine …’” More seriously, “it’s a lot of work, but it’s really cool to get a behind the scenes glimpse of what goes into producing a major event like the concert.”

Estrela has held other leadership roles, including serving as a shift leader for Campus Kitchen, where she led a team of volunteers over the past three years to redistribute food from different sources including Aramark and Lowe’s Foods to underprivileged communities in Winston-Salem. 

“I started volunteering freshman year and enjoyed it. I think it’s a good way to get off campus and see the community we are a part of,” Estrela said. “You wouldn’t think Wake Forest is in a huge food desert [but it is], and I think it’s important to use the resources we have to help out any way we can.”

Looking back at her time at Wake Forest, Estrela is grateful for the people she’s met, the opportunities she’s had, and the information she’s learned. 

“Wake [Forest] has helped me grow into who I am today,” she said. “I really love the classes, the professors, my friends. Plus, the winters are better than they are on the Cape!” 

Her advice for future Wake Forest students is to simply “get involved. Yes, work hard in your classes, but don’t kill yourself. You have a whole life to live after college.” 

Though sad about missing out on her “lasts” at Wake Forest due to the pandemic, Estrela is excited to head to Washington, D.C., where she will work as an analyst for the consulting firm CGI. 

When asked if there was anything else she would like to share, “I just want everyone to know that I have the world’s most adorable cat, Mr. Loon [I’ve seen the pictures and happen to agree].”

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