Gabriela Huggins grew up speaking three languages.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that after she graduates from high school next spring, she wants to go learn a fourth.

Gabriela, a senior at Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School and The Sentinel’s Teen of the Week, wants to take a gap year. She’s applied to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a scholarship program for studying a language.

Gabriela wants to learn Arabic in Morocco.

“My sister (Raquel, who is three years older) applied but she decided she didn’t want to do it. She told another friend, and she went and loved it,” Gabriela says. “She came back and was placed in third-year college Arabic, never speaking a word of it before then. It helped her develop into who she was.

“It’s a different culture, very different than our own, and I think it would be cool to do.”

Gabriela knows about different cultures. Her mom is from Panama; she taught her children to speak Spanish, and Gabriela says her family speaks a mix of Spanish and English at home.

Her father is a military veteran who also taught computer science at West Point; the Huggins family has twice lived in France, where Gabriela learned to speak French. (If you’re counting, those are her three languages – Spanish, French and English.)

So why Arabic? And why Morocco?

Gabriela notes that millions of people speak Arabic around the world – “it’s a really diverse language and there are many different dialects.” She also feels that, with the tension in the Middle East, it’s a smart language to understand for someone who’s thinking of entering the military, as Gabriela is.

“Whatever I do, knowing Arabic will do a lot of good,” she says. She’s interested in calligraphy and using it in Arabic, and she wants to know more about the culture behind the language.

Plus, by choosing to go to Morocco, Gabriela already has a leg up.

“They speak French there as well,” she says.

Gabriela has lived in Mechanicsburg since her sophomore year. She has moved many times in her life, and she says she gained a bit from each experience.

“My fourth-grade year in France was the most stressful year of school in my life,” she says. “I came here (to the U.S.) in fifth grade and it was really relaxed – obviously living in Paris is different than here, culture-wise. It’s been different wherever I go.”

“She comes in with such a diverse background,” says Gail Hiestand, a counselor at the high school. “It’s something a lot of students don’t have. She’s learned a lot of different things in her life, and it’s given her a lot of wonderful new experiences.”

Her time at West Point taught her that the military lifestyle works very well for her. She’s hoping to attend the Army school after her gap year.

“I love the whole structure of West Point,” she says. “It’s very organized. Every minute of the day is doing something different. People are very stressed all the time, but they’re getting the best education in the world. Since all the professors live on post, you are literally around your teachers all the time. If you need something, someone is always there.”

Gabriela knows about the value of balance and focus. She is a member of the National Honor Society who carries a 94 percent average while taking a slew of AP classes.

The Physics and Key clubs member says the focused personality that could help her at West Point also carries over into other things she does, whether it’s playing on the school soccer and basketball teams, or working on a group project in class.

“I’d say I’m disciplined, but I do joke around a lot,” she says. “When we’re doing any team activities, I’m like, ‘OK, we’re going to win and this is how, let’s get it done now.’”

She doesn’t like to have things hanging over her – like homework.

“In study halls, every opportunity I have to get my homework done immediately, I take,” she laughs.

She hopes that, after Morocco, she’ll either go to West Point or another college where she’ll do an ROTC program. Then perhaps she’ll pursue a career in the service. If not, she’s happy serving her four years after college and moving on to something new.

“There are so many benefits from coming out of the military,” she says. “For college, it’s free and then they pay you. It’s a challenge I think is difficult but I’m willing to take.”

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