You may or may not have heard buzz about the Arabic language courses being offered on campus but the word is true. Arabic is currently being taught at the University of New Hampshire as one of the 11 existing languages students can choose to study.
According to Associate Dean Ted Kirkpatrick of the College of Liberal Arts (COLA), "As of right now, any student at UNH has the choice of taking French, German, Spanish, Latin, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Ancient Greek, Modern Greek and Arabic."
Arabic is the most recent addition to the 11; however, its existence did not come without heavy persistence, and its future as a solid language program has not yet been secured.
On Oct. 30, 25 students who have been involved in the few Arabic courses that have been offered since the fall of 2006 signed two petitions.
The first petition asked Associate Dean Ted Kirkpatrick of the College of Liberal Arts to add Arabic 504 to the slowly developing list of Arabic courses offered at UNH, which currently consists of Arabic 401, 402 --both elementary language studies-- and 503 --intermediate study.
The other was to encourage that the university add a full Arabic language program to its roster.
According to Kirkpatrick, the decision about the addition of an Arabic 504 class will be made in early December.
Kirkpatrick also said that there are several faculty members on campus who are interested in pursuing the creation of a Middle East Studies minor, which may include Arabic in its curriculum.
Political Science professor Jeannie Sowers said, "There will be a meeting next week with the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and several professors in COLA to talk about the possibility of a minor in Middle East Studies, which will strongly encourage the study of Arabic."
Two years ago, students Brendan King and John Reilly got together and began a petition to include Arabic as part of UNH's language program.
Reilly, who transferred to UNH from Tulane University in 2005, was disappointed to learn that he could not continue his studies on his favorite subject, Arabic. Since then, Reilly has continued to be a highly active part of the slow creation of an entire Arabic program on campus.
The petition included signatures of 25 students who were committed to enrolling in Arabic 401 if it were offered, and it was approved for the fall of 2006.
Giselle El Khoury was hired to instruct the small group of hopefuls in Arabic 401. By spring of 2007, students gathered together again to petition to add Arabic 402.
El Khoury stayed on staff for spring of 2007, but by the fall of this year, the Arabic instructor changed to Ruwa Pokorny. The students had also managed to add Arabic 503 to the curriculum for this semester, another student-petitioned course.
"As of right now, we can take either Arabic 401 or 503," explains Reilly. "Now we want to add 504 [for next semester]. We would like to be able to minor in Arabic by the time we graduate, without having to petition each individual semester."
Senior Jamie Howes, graduating with a dual major in psychology and justice studies, has both a passion for the language and finds Arabic an essential part of her future career path.
"This is my third semester of Arabic. I began learning the Arabic language because I wanted to learn something that would make me unique for an agency such as the FBI or Homeland Security," Howes said.
Howes has received contact from both of these agencies and, according to her, "both [of the agencies] are telling me that my knowledge of the Arabic language is invaluable right now."
Senior Laila Ballout grew up speaking Arabic and wants to go to graduate school to study U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
"I'm at a disadvantage," Ballout said, "because I don't have anything in writing from my university saying that I can speak Arabic."
According to Dean Kirkpatrick, the fact that these students cannot say that they have an official minor in the Arabic language does not mean their efforts of taking it will go unnoticed.
"Believe me, having been in the trade for so long now and having seen thousands of transcripts, [future employers and graduate schools] will make note that these students have taken Arabic at all. It is a meaningful thing," Kirkpatrick said.
The sole Arabic instructor on campus, Ruwa Pokorny said, "Arabic is really, really difficult. I made it very clear to the students on the first day of class. I told them 'This will probably be the most challenging subject you are doing this semester,'"
"I am beyond impressed with how much they have achieved. I am so proud of all of these students. The other day, the 503 class was translating very, very sophisticated sentences," Pokorny said.
Pokorny said that she would absolutely teach a 504 class if it would be allowed into the curriculum.
"I envision it being a little bit more of a practical speaking/language course," she said.
According to Dean Kirkpatrick, "The ideal thing would be that [Arabic] could go on a two year cycle," he said, "the first year would include Arabic 401 and 402, and the second year would include 503 and 504, that way no matter when you get to our university, you will have been able to complete four semesters of Arabic by the time you graduate."
In the petition signed on Oct. 30 to add the language program, the students said, "We cannot help but question our own future in studying Arabic based on the current Arabic 503 class…We would like to think that the university would wish to encourage the indulgence of true intellectual curiosity rather than simply creating another option for fulfilling a language requirement."
According to Dean Kirkpatrick, "The likelihood of any 631 and/or 632 Arabic course popping up is probably zero. We would have to first focus on Chinese and Japanese, as they have been after the same things as these Arabic students for years now," he said.
In regards to the chances Arabic 504 has, Kirkpatrick said, "The odds for 504 are fifty-fifty. The spirit and intent are there. But can we afford it? We're all generally supportive. But there are many other committees who want other things as well."