Fulbright professor Reham Othman is bringing Arabic language and culture to SIUE this year through a new course in the Foreign Language and Literature Department.
Othman said she is teaching at SIUE as part of the Fulbright Scholar Program, an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Othman is from Cairo, Egypt. Before being selected for the Fulbright program she worked as a teacher, film translator and at the Center of Curriculum and Material Development. She has also begun her master's degree in teaching methodology. Historical studies professor Steve Tamari said SIUE is fortunate to have her.
Othman's beginning Arabic course, FLL 121-003, is open to all students, and according to Tamari, it is a valuable course.
"The Middle Eastern world of Islam includes the most important parts of the world for America today," Tamari said. "They are the parts America is most involved in and are parts we know little about." ? ?
Tamari said SIUE has wanted to offer more in Middle Eastern studies for a long time.
"It's the perfect time for SIUE to get more involved and offer more," Tamari said. "The Middle East is a critical area for our country and the world in general."
Othman's students, including graduate student Jamie Haines, agree that this course is valuable. ?
"This course is important because it opens the door to the Arabic speaking world which was, for this university, previously closed academically," Haines said.
"As a graduate student in the Historical Studies Department, my focus is on Middle Eastern History, to which this class is imperative to further my studies."
According to Tamari, the most important part of a Middle Eastern studies program is language.
"Arabic is the most widely spoken of the Middle Eastern languages," he said. "It is also the language of the Koran, so it is important to Muslims beyond the Middle East."
Othman said Arabic is the official language of about 25 countries, and foreigners who can speak it are commodities.
"It is important for foreigners to learn Arabic," Othman said. "In the age of globalization and trade, there is a need for people who can communicate in Arabic."
Othman currently has 10 students she teaches the Arabic alphabet, sounds and some words to. She said her students have shown an early grasp of the Arabic language.
"A lot of them can now read and write," Othman said.
Haines said Othman has created an environment that is conducive to learning the new language.
"I am forever grateful for her patience as we learn a completely new alphabet and writing system," Haines said. "I was intimidated by what appeared to be a very challenging language, but with Ms. Othman's guidance, I am already reading and recognizing simple sentences."
Othman said she thinks culture is an important part of the course as well. She brought with her several things from Egyptian culture including pictures, clothing, currency and videos.
"I have a lot of things for my class, but I don't have enough time to teach them," Othman said.
Haines said learning about Arabic culture is an enlightening element of Othman's course.
"One of many positive aspects to this class is the experience of another culture that is so often negatively stereotyped, due to the media's narrow portrayal of the Arabic speaking world," she said. "Not only are the students learning a language that is less familiar to the Western world, but they are also capturing a glimpse into a very diverse and rich culture."
She said she would like to start an Arabic club to share more with her students. She would like to cook them food and share the Muslim marriage celebration, for example.
Othman said her Arabic class was intended only to be a semester-long course, but many of her students want to continue. The department is now allowing her to continue with these students next semester in addition to offering another beginner class.
According to Othman, students have many reasons for wanting to learn Arabic.
"Some said they know Arabic is completely different and were interested in knowing different things," she said. Others, she said, are planning to visit Egypt, and some want to know about the culture.
Othman said she loves teaching the Arabic language at SIUE because her students enjoy it as well.
?"I think my students like it, which makes me happy. I am thrilled when they learn something new," Othman said.