Many of the 42 students in the Arabic Language Flagship Partner Program have no cultural or ethnic ties to the Arab world, but they recognize that knowing the language will not only help them procure a job but also improve foreign relations.
Tiegan Willoughby is pursuing a minor in Arabic and was drawn to the program after a friend got him interested in studying the language.
"I'm just interested in languages, and Arabic's fairly unique in comparison to English," said Willoughby, a philosophy and linguistics junior. "To be honest, I see it being my biggest asset when it comes to job interviews and things like that."
The flagship program, in its third year at OU, is a government-sponsored program that pays for students' Arabic courses in the program as long as they maintain at least a 3.25 grade point average, said Heidi Gehret, flagship program coordinator.
Students who participate in the five-year program take three years of core language classes and other humanity classes examining the arts, politics and culture of the region. Students have the option to either major in the language or pursue an Arabic minor.
Siera Collins, Arabic and international and area studies sophomore, was first inspired to pursue the language after a 2005 trip with the Junior Statesmen of America to the United Nations.
"My long-term goal is to become an ambassador," Collins said. "So becoming immersed in Arabic was very important to me, and the Arabic language is beautiful."
The program offers students the opportunity to study in Alexandria, Egypt.
"I think the flagship program is a great opportunity for the students to learn the language and go places," said Hossam Barakat, Arabic professor originally from Egypt.
Another way to become immersed in the language is living in the Arabic House in Cate Center's Kirk House. The house shows Arabic news stations and offers an environment in which to practice the language daily with other flagship students.
"We're looking forward to getting some native speakers in the house that we can practice with, but right now, it's a good opportunity just to practice the language every day," Collins said. "My roommate and I like to joke around a lot in Arabic."
Collins said people remaining after the first year share a strong common interest in the language.
"You get people that are really passionate," Collins said. "Becoming fluent is very important to them. You have to love the language to do it."