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Building on the Basics: Summer Arabic Language Study

Alexa Andaya
Sophomore, Political Science
Grant Year: 
Alexa Andaya
During six weeks of study and cultural immersion in Morocco, I vastly improved my grasp of the Arabic language and increased my understanding of a different way of life. I confirmed my passion for studying Arabic and Islamic societies, and I consider myself to be well prepared now for continued exploration of these topics.
At the Arabic Language Institute in Fez (ALIF), my classroom study of Arabic was intensive. I attended class from Monday through Friday for four hours daily, spending two hours with one professor and two hours with another professor. Professor Mohammed Fahmi, who teaches classes at a Moroccan university as well as at ALIF, spoke almost entirely in Arabic throughout class, even to express extremely advanced or complex ideas; Professor Fahmi ensured that the class learned grammar through repeated drills. Professor Mostafa Ouajjani, who teaches at Dartmouth College during the regular academic year, had a different but equally effective style of teaching. Lively and enthusiastic, Professor Ouajjani insisted on solid knowledge of vocabulary, true understanding of grammar, and conversational skill. My professors complemented each other very well. I advanced my Arabic at an exponential rate through challenging texts, lengthy presentations, hours of daily homework, an oral exam, and the attention and individualized instruction possible in my class of only six students.
Outside the classroom, I spent each weekend and much of my free time exploring Morocco. Besides exploring the old and new sections of Fez, in which I was based, I traveled to Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, the Sahara, and Chefchaouen, a mountainous northern city famed for its blue buildings. I visited souks, fortresses, mosques, museums, and more. In addition to practicing my formal Arabic in a real-world setting, I picked up bits of French and Darija—Moroccan Arabic—the two major languages spoken in the country’s streets. I learned to cope with harassment and haggling and taxi drivers, and I gained a great deal of confidence in traveling. My time in Morocco was alsovery much shaped by Ramadan, which began two weeks after my arrival and was a unique experience in an almost entirely Islamic country. Fasting, Iftaar, and the unusual liveliness at night afforded me a different view of Morocco, and I learned to look forward to the muezzin’s daily call to break the fast so that the household could sit down to the delicious evening meal. I became accustomed to the calls to prayer and to my host family’s prayer routines; I learned about wudu and different ways to tie a headscarf.
Without a doubt, the most important and invaluable aspect of my time in Morocco was my host family. I lived in a small apartment close to ALIF, in Fez’s new section, with a woman, Rachida, and her eighteen-year-old daughter, Kenza. They were the greatest blessing to me. Rachida does not speak English at all, but her kindness to me surpassed words anyway, and her incredible cooking introduced me to such dishes as couscous and tajine. Besides rudimentary conversations in Arabic, Kenza and I had many conversations in English, and our most frequent topics were popular music, television, education, and harassment. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from Kenza’s insights; she believes very strongly, for example, that improving education in her region will lead to improvements in behavior toward women in the streets. She spoke to me about being afraid to go to the store at night, and I noticed her annoyance at the honking of horns from cars that passed. I became and remain extremely close to my host family, and Rachida was openly crying when I left. Kenza and Rachida helped guide me while I was in Morocco, and I even attended one of their family reunion weekends in the city of Meknes, meeting aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother.
All of my experiences in Morocco were enriching and incredible beyond even my most ambitious hopes. I have grown to appreciate life in a completely different culture, and I am much more confident now in my ability to continue studying Arabic and to navigate another society. I am happy to find that I am not yet tired of the type of language and cultural exploration that I experienced in Morocco.
Moving forward, I intend to continue my Arabic study independently for several months, working my way through Al-Kitaab Part Two while abroad in Spain and Turkey during this academic year. Upon my return to Stanford, I intend to take a language placement test so as to enroll in the appropriate Arabic course on campus. After six weeks of intensive Arabic classes in Morocco, enabled by the Abbasi Grant, I am more excited than ever to further my studies.