Tag Archives: Arabic language

A Lifetime in Four Months

The following entry was submitted by Shante Fencl, a spring 2016 participant on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Morocco. A student of International Studies at American University, Shante reflects on her highlights of Morocco and what first surprised her.

On a cold January morning before dawn, my mother and I packed up our car. I had already said my goodbyes to friends and family, and it was time to start the six hour drive to JFK airport from my small town outside of Cleveland, OH. That night I had a plane to catch that would take me to Morocco where I would spend the next four months of my life learning about the culture and language of the land. I felt as though I was saying goodbye to the people I loved for a lifetime, but I never expected that I would have the same emotions about new friends and new family once my semester abroad came to an end.

As soon as I landed in the airport in Casablanca, the realization of being in a foreign land hit me. As I walked outside I could see the sun rising through the palm trees (a sight I could never see in Ohio!) The only thing I knew about Casablanca was from the black and white Humphrey Bogart film, and the vivid colors of the landscape took me by surprise. My driver took me to the city where I would be living and studying during my semester abroad with AMIDEAST: Rabat. Not knowing the language and being an ocean away from anyone I have ever known made me feel so alone. After our first week of orientation with AMIDEAST, all of the students were placed into our host families. I met my new roommate, my new family, and moved into my new home within a matter of hours. I can remember thinking that these new people and places would never become normal to me. I could not imagine getting used to life in Morocco, but I am happy I was proven wrong.

Within a few short weeks of being in the country, I learned basic phrases for survival in Arabic and could express myself in simple words to have conversations with locals. I made amazing friends both in the AMIDEAST program and in Rabat and I began to travel the country I called home for the semester. As each week passed, I began to feel more comfortable in this new place. The sights I saw everyday were now commonplace, the people I came to know and love were now an important part of my life. By the very end of the program, I had experienced a lifetime in only four months. I started to appreciate and understand the new culture I was living in. I began to see the similarities and differences between my country and Morocco and I was so thankful for being able to experience life in both places. Most importantly, I fell in love with a new place away from home.

Sand in Hair

Immediately after leaving Morocco, I was heartbroken. The only thing I wanted to do was go back to that first day when I got off the plane in Casablanca. I wanted to do it all over again. Now that I knew the country, the people, and could communicate in the language, I knew I could make the most of my time if I could just go back and start over again. But I couldn’t start over. My semester was done. As I sat there in my home thinking about my time in Morocco, I realized how fortunate I was to have had even four months in the country. I learned so much not only about the culture and language, but also about myself. I learned to be proud of where I came from, but to find the beauty in other places as well. I learned to challenge myself and do things I never dreamed of doing before. I guess you can say that I learned to live, and I will always be grateful to Morocco for teaching me that.

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Filed under 2016, Morocco

Learning is a Two Way Street

The following entry was submitted by Becky Rawle, an academic year 2015-16 participant on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Jordan. A student of Middle East Studies at Dickinson College, Becky reflects on her MENA 390: Community-Based Learning class with AMIDEAST during her Spring 2016 term.

Reflecting back on my semester, I have a lot I wish to talk about. Despite all the amazing experiences I have had, I will focus on just one aspect, my community based learning. This semester I had the unique opportunity of getting out into a different Jordanian community than I was able to experience last semester. After I completed my Fall semester I wanted to find a way to experience more of Jordan, so I decided to take the Community-Based Learning (CBL) class. Through the class I had the opportunity to work at the Collateral Repair Project (CRP). CRP is committed to helping refugees, CRP’s website states that they “seek to restore dignity and community among displaced urban refugees as well as to ensure that their basic food and housing needs are met.” CRP offers many programs, one of which is an after school program for the children in the community in East Amman, where CRP’s headquarters are situated. This is the program I participated in.

When my fellow AMIDEAST peers and I arrived at CRP, we were tasked with teaching the children English and math. The children were very quick learners and extremely bright, but learning another language is tricky for almost anyone. The children could sing the alphabet song and recite the letters in order, but they did not understand the value of each individual letter. For example, if you pointed to a random letter they often could not tell you which one it was. Despite this constant struggle, by the end of my time at CRP I did see a difference. Once again, we were going over the alphabet and when a random letter was pointed out, we got a resounding correct answer from most of the children. It was a very satisfying moment because it showed that the frustration of feeling like we could not get our lesson through to them had been overcome.

Our lessons were done almost completely in Arabic because the children spoke almost no English. This proved quite challenging for me because I only started learning Arabic last semester. However, one of the perks of my placement was that it forced me to practice my Arabic. I believe that it actually helped me improve my Arabic. The children were very forgiving when I made mistakes speaking Arabic. They allowed me to make mistakes in a nonjudgmental setting, which made it easier for me to speak Arabic to adults. The more I spoke Arabic the more confident I became and the more I learned. In other words, it was not just me teaching them English, but them teaching me Arabic.

A Sunny Day in Salt

A sunny day in Al-Salt.

The relationship I had with the children at CRP allowed me to see a different part of Amman and meet different people living in Jordan. The program is in Eastern Amman which is economically disadvantaged especially compared to the bubble of wealth I lived in in Shmeisani. It let me see another way of life in Amman, which helped me develop a clearer picture of the various communities that make up Jordan. However, most importantly for me, my CBL placement allowed me to work with children which I love to do. The children were all wonderful and super excited to learn. They were always vying to answer the questions and their insatiable appetite for knowledge was very inspiring. If it was not for the CBL class offered at AMIDEAST, I would not have been able to grow as an Arabic speaker and engage with a different community in Amman.

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Filed under Education Abroad, Jordan

Connection to the Global Community in Morocco

This entry features a submission by former AMIDEAST Education Abroad student, Everest Robinson. Everest participated in the AMIDEAST Morocco Regional Studies in French program during the Fall 2015 term. From Macalester College in Minnesota, Everest is a student of Psychology and Religious Studies. We hope you enjoy his reflection on his experience in Morocco!

It’s very hard to sum up four months of my life in Morocco, to extract a single lesson or even a single story. There are so many stories so many ways that my life has been altered by Morocco.

The place I would start with to describe my time in Morocco is not a location or an experience, but the people, for people always make a place. The people of Morocco have taught me so much. As a tourist, I sometimes found myself in situations where it would’ve been very easy to take advantage of me. However, this rarely happened. By and large, Moroccan people were not only helpful but they went above and beyond just extending courtesy and aid; they treated me as a family member and showed genuine interest and investment in my well-being. In a similar vein, I noticed community solidarity every day whether it was four people jumping at the chance to help a mother get her stroller on the bus or a stranger watching someone’s kids as the parents went into a shop. I will never forget this community solidarity which has become a part of my identity, and I will never forget that many times I was vulnerable in an unfamiliar place where if not for the assistance of strangers I could’ve encountered trouble.

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Buying a rug from villagers on the Zawiya Ahansal excursion.

Overall, I found my experience abroad to be simultaneously challenging and illuminating. During my time abroad, I was forced to use muscles that I had rarely used before. I confronted myself just as much I confronted the socio-cultural obstacles. In general, I tend to be more of a follower/people-pleaser. I rarely drive the plans or the conversation within a social group. When I stay at someone’s house I try to be invisible and rarely express my needs. While I was abroad, I learned very quickly that they are times when it is necessary to advocate for yourself and be assertive. I could’ve let the semester move along with my various discomforts and had regrets at the end, but instead I learned to confront people with my desires and I even made a trip by myself to Chefchaouen when no one wanted to go the particular weekend I had available. There were so many experiences that became available with me at the small price of asserting myself. Because of this perspective-shift I was able to leave Morocco with zero regrets and with an increased ability to assert myself which is quite a useful skill to have in adulthood.

Another hugely important thing I take with me back to the states is an increased awareness of the global community. By going to Morocco I was exposed to viewpoints that simply aren’t available in the United States in my upper-class liberal arts bubble. I learned far more about Islam than I could’ve learned in any textbook or web search. Greater than the French I learned was the shockingly simple revelation that other people use all sorts of languages all around the world and that this language in turn influences their perceptions. Furthermore, many things cannot be translated into words. I learned a great deal about wealth disparity from living with a middle class Moroccan family and teaching English to refugees from many Sub-Saharan nations. Finally, I learned that there are so many different ways to live life on planet earth in community and that although I may be more comfortable living one way, that does not mean that the others are less correct on a universal level. After being abroad, I feel a greater connection to the global community.

I can’t put a price or any sort of measure on what my semester abroad has meant to me. It is invaluable. It is part of me. It has shaped me irreversibly. I strongly believe this opportunity should exist for every person on this wonderful planet, and I’m immensely grateful to have had this opportunity.

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Filed under 2015, Adventure, French, Morocco

Highlights of Morocco Fall 2015

This entry was shared by Sarah Donaldson, a participant on AMIDEAST’s Fall 2015 Area & Arabic Language Studies Program in Rabat, Morocco. Sarah, a student of Political Science at the University of Kentucky, shares the highlights of her semester experience in Morocco.

Photo 1

Within our first week in Morocco, we were welcomed with the Rabat Challenge. After a few days of being shown around the city for orientation week and what not, it was time to put what we learned to the lest. We were required to find everyday things that we would need like ATMs, places to get food, Hannuts (little stores) and certain buildings around AMIDEAST and near the areas our host families lived, the place that we would soon call home for the next 4 months, as well as navigate the medina the best way that we could. It is funny looking back and remembering how much we struggled on this challenge. First of all, we went to the wrong train station, and then we thought we made it to the medina and it turned out that we were far from the old city. I’m sure the cabs we took all were about double the cost of what they should have been and we were still strangers to each other at this point so it was just overall very awkward. We were just so new and clueless and looking back on this adventure shows us just how far we came in our experience studying abroad. I loved this experience because it gave us some independence and a task of navigating through the city in a more relaxing mindset. This challenge also brought me close to the two people that I would later call some of my best friends. Now at the end of this program, I can confidently say that I can easy accomplish this challenge in half of the time they gave us to complete it.

Photo 2

Zawayat Ahnsal was easily the most important excursion that we took while on this program. Before leaving for this small village in Morocco, everyone was concerned; no one had heard of it and it sounded like there was not a lot to do, and everyone wanted to spend there week doing something “more fun”. Then what happened was we came and taught some of the most adorable, most intelligent kids English who were so driven to learn. We had dinner at the Sheikh’s house, with traditional music where the whole town came and sung and danced with us. The girls were given Jlabbas to wear during the celebration and they offered food and tea and woman were there to give everyone henna. To everyone’s surprise we had the most fun on this excursion than any other. We got to see the most breath-taking views of the village and we really got to connect with individuals there in ways that you can’t do when you are in a big city. The reason why this was so important is because a lot of Morocco is made up of small villages like this one and we got to see and experience a huge part of Moroccan culture that we would not have seen or known about if we continued to visit the big popular cities that we all planned to see.

Photo 3

It would be a disservice to write this piece and not include a picture of my host family. It was great because no matter what they always tried to be engaging with us and really invited us into their home. It was good to be with a host family like this because it forced us to learn and use the language and they also got to show us their culture. There is something to be said for getting to experience a culture first hand and it is an experience that I wouldn’t have gotten with out this family. They were there to help us with homework, and to give us love when we were feeling especially home sick. It truly felt like having another family while you were in Morocco. Which at first, sounds almost exhausting to constantly be with other people all the time, but to have people there to care about you and to look out for you while experiencing a culture so different makes all the difference.

 

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Filed under 2015, Education Abroad, Morocco

Why I (Still) Live in Morocco

Eleanor Easton, originally from University of Chicago, studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University in the fall of 2012. Three years later she decided she wasn’t done with Morocco, so she made Casablanca her home.

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca is a big, sprawling, and complicated city.  Sometimes the stoplights and walk signs don’t match up, sometimes simple tasks take hours to complete, and sometimes the garbage collector doesn’t come for weeks.  But it also has some hidden gems: organic fruit stands on every street with the sweetest fruits I’ve ever tasted, markets tucked into corners of the city, waiting to be found and explored, and incredible diversity of language, culture, and history.  There is always something new to discover or somewhere new to explore.

Nearly three years ago, I decided to apply for AMIDEAST’s direct enrollment program at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.  I chose the program because I wanted to be an exchange student at a university instead of traveling with a group of Americans.  I thought I would learn more from being in a situation where I couldn’t easily rely on what I already knew.  But the greatest benefit of choosing this sort of program was not just that I was able to experience life as a student in Morocco, but also that those I met during the program were people who lived semi-permanently in Morocco, and so are still here.  After I finished my program with AMIDEAST, I returned to the U.S. just long enough to graduate from my university, and then came right back to Morocco.  I started teaching English at AMIDEAST in Casablanca this fall, after a year of teaching at an American school, also in Casablanca.  I am lucky to have old friends from my semester in Ifrane as well as new friends from my job in Casablanca.

Although there are moments when I feel like my classes are as chaotic as Casablanca at rush hour, teaching is one of the best ways to feel connected to Moroccan culture.  I teach several different classes, and each one has to be approached totally differently.  In my morning class, my students speak Arabic more fluently than French, so sometimes they teach me words in Arabic while I teach them English.  In my children’s classes, most students prefer to speak French.  In my business classes, I sometimes learn from adult students about their jobs and the companies they work for.  I have students who are studying English so that they can live outside of Morocco, and I have students who are studying so that they can find their dream jobs without leaving Casablanca.  Even though I am no longer in Morocco as a student, I feel like I am always learning something new.

Life in Casablanca is totally different from life in Ifrane; Ifrane is quiet, clean, and friendly, while Casa has too much traffic, too few trashcans, and not enough stop lights for its many busy intersections.  But my time as an exchange student in Ifrane prepared me in many ways for life in Casablanca, despite how different it was.  When I returned to Morocco as a teacher instead of a student, I felt that I was continuing something I had already started.  And now it’s not just a place I live for the duration of a program; it’s my home.

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Filed under 2012, Morocco

Religion, Art, and Books in Jordan

Summer 2014 brought Mark Hoover exploration and surprises in Amman, Jordan. Coming from the University of Pennsylvania, Mark discovered a new perspective on religion, historical art, and which books to add to his personal library.

St. George / Al-Khader Church

Inside St. George / Al-Khader Church

IMG_0350 mark hoover 2

Al-Khader Church Sign in English and Arabic

When I announced to my host family that after visiting the place where Jesus was baptized I would visit the town of Salt, I received an interesting assignment. I was to burn a candle in the church of Kidr (Moses’ mentor in the Quran) there and say a prayer for them. Strange, a Muslim family was asking me to burn a candle (a Christian practice) in a Christian church dedicated to a Muslim figure. I knew that Middle Eastern Muslims often conflate Kidr with St. George, and had even heard stories of Muslims showing up at festivities in churches on St. George’s day in Syria. I assumed that something similar was going on.

It was, only more intensely. In the story I had heard from Syria, the priests officiating the St. George day celebrations were somewhat bemused by the Muslims showing up, thinking that Kidr was the focus of the day. In Salt the clergy clearly went a step further and used the Muslim conflation of the two to their advantage. While the iconography in the church clearly indicated that it was dedicated to St. George, the sign advertised it as “Al-Khadr Church” in both English and Arabic. Either it was an instance of shrewd taking advantage of (harmless) inter-religious misunderstanding, or of syncretism, the Christians of Salt absorbing the Muslim conflation of St. George and Kidr till it became part of their own Christian veneration. It was an interesting experience nonetheless.

Fresco scene in Azraq

Fresco scene in Azraq

During the Eid al-Fitr break, a classmate and I went to visit Azraq, an oasis in the Jordanian desert known for the old “castles” around it. The last of these we visited was actually a Roman-style bath house for one of the ‘Umayyad Caliphs in Damascus. Its interior was completely covered in frescoes like the one pictured. Clearly the Caliph had a rather sensual artistic taste when bathing in the middle of the desert. Fresco scenes much more salacious than the one shown imply that they themselves were only depictions of what he himself got up to there.

The most interesting thing about the frescos was how un-Arab they were. Sometimes the tell-tale Arabic script remained, but apart from that everything about them was Byzantine. I had read before that when the Arabs conquered the Middle East, they brought no artistic culture with them, and thus, before they developed one of their own, informed by Islamic values, they simply adopted the art of their subjects. The frescos were a powerful real-life demonstration of this.

Books acquired in Jordan

Books acquired in Jordan

This picture shows my collection of Arabic books at the end of my stay in Jordan. Apart from the Bible (the big blue one in the middle), I acquired all of them in Jordan.

My book buying spree started small with the purchase of the books lying horizontally: a Quran, a medieval Arabic equivalent to Aesop’s Fables, and Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah (the tiny book vertically next to these is a miniature Quran the shop owner gave me as a present when purchasing those three).

I received the small blue book as a present by the pastor of the church I attended in Jordan. It was written by the pastor of the church I attended back when I lived in Lebanon. Small world.

That would have been it, but then my host father mentioned a poem, the Alafiyeh Ibn Malik, which described the rules of Arabic grammar and which religious scholars had to memorize. Of course I needed to buy it too (it’s the small pink one next to the miniature Quran), and with it I bought a commentary on it (second from the left) and another work of similar stature (the third from left).

In the last two days, my teachers mentioned two books I “needed” to have. This time an important collection of hadith (first from the left) and the some pre-Islamic poetry (fourth from the left) were my target. While I was there, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn (a short Quran commentary, fifth from the left) found its way into my possession as well.

This spree of book-buying, which make packing on the return journey much harder, was a wonderful excursion into the world of Arabic classics. Now I just need to read them.

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Filed under 2014, Jordan

Unexpected Surprises – Summer Intensive Arabic Program in Oman

In our Summer 2014 Intensive Arabic Program, scholarship winner, Taylor Mosely, had an amazing experience.  Taylor, a student from Vassar University, found that she not only improved her Arabic language skills significantly, but also learned a great deal about the region and Omani culture in general.  She outlines the highlights of her experience on our program in her end of semester essay.  All photo credit goes to Taylor Mosely.

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Before I made my journey to Muscat, Oman in the summer of 2014, I sat down and contemplated the reasons why I wanted to study Arabic. I came to the conclusion that my home institution, Vassar College, has indeed opened my mind and given me the tools to constructively think about the society I live in. I believed, however, that there was so much more for me to learn that could not be taught on campus. I realized that as an International Studies major, it was imperative that I study abroad. I was highly interested in learning the Arabic language outside of the United States because it would expose me to a whole new world. I was also excited to get an intimate view of culture outside of my own. For me, the possibility of studying Arabic in a foreign country was energizing because I deeply wanted to become familiar with the Middle Eastern region on a personal level. All things considered, I thought that studying abroad would expand my personal horizons, strengthen my language skills and deepen my understanding of the Arab history and culture.

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Filed under Adventure, Arabic, Oman, Photography