Why did you choose this particular program?
I knew I wanted to study Arabic over the summer and thought I’d travel to either Lebanon or Jordan. Several friends and teachers warned me about the common occurrence of international students speaking English outside the classroom, which often inhibits them from fully immersing themselves in the language. I had heard of Middlebury from a friend, who told me about the program’s crazy pedagogy and decided that if I really wanted to learn Arabic, I needed to completely rid myself of the temptation to use English as a crutch.
The language pledge applies to all aspects of daily life at Mills. Every day, we spend four hours learning fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) and one hour learning amia (colloquial Arabic). In addition, we attend a weekly film showing, lecture and extra-curricular activity. All of our conversations in the cafeteria and various places around campus are in Arabic.
What is an interesting thing you’ve learned during your program that the average person does not know?
While the program focuses primarily on fusha, there are many opportunities to learn and practice amia. Before Middlebury, I knew the Arab world contained many different dialects. I did not know the degree to which these dialects differed. For example, someone from Saudi Arabia would have trouble understanding someone from Morocco. At Mills, students and teachers often use a strange mixture of both fusha and amia. For those who have never studied Arabic before, fusha is primarily used in literature and news in the Arab world. It is somewhat archaic, and children grow up speaking amia. Essentially, fusha is a second-language to them. My friends and I often make a joke out of our situation; just imagine a bunch of Arabic-speakers learning and speaking only Shakespearean English for a period of eight weeks.
Have you changed as a result of this experience?
While I still have more than half of the program left, I can confidently say I’ve changed from this experience. For example, I have become more sympathetic to immigrants and refugees struggling to learn a new language. I used to teach English in the United States and in Jaffa, Israel. I am now able to comprehend the difficulty of thinking and speaking in another language. For the first three days of this program, I had a headache from thinking so much! I never knew how tiring it would be. Sometimes I feel like a completely different person. Not being able to express yourself fully because of a limited vocabulary has been challenging. Despite this, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. I’ve started to recognize the depth of languages’ nuances and the beauty each one possesses. Language is an important part of culture. Some words and phrases are untranslatable; they only exist in a unique culture. To fully understand a culture, it is necessary to immerse yourself in its language.