Charisse Varga's goal is to become an interpreter someday, while Dennis Tihansky wants to comfortably speak the native language of Kuwait and Tunisia when he travels there.
Rebecca Zipay just finds language to be a "relaxing" subject to study.
They all have their own reasons for taking an Arabic language immersion program at Washington & Jefferson College.
Georges Montillet, adjunct professor and director of the program, said the main goal is to prepare students culturally and linguistically for traveling abroad."If you go to a country and you only speak English, you can learn some about that country, but you only get the view of the people who speak English," Montillet said. "If you speak the language, you're going to experience that country in a whole different light."
Students study independently in the morning, have four hours of class in the afternoon and end their day with a cultural activity such as bellydancing or sampling Middle Eastern food. The four-week program is intensive, and many of the students have already studied Arabic in high school or college.
"We take really motivated students, so everyone here is pretty intense about what they're doing," Montillet said. "With a language, you have to be surrounded with it for it to really sink in and make sense."
Students don't stop speaking Arabic when the lessons end, though.The students and Montillet are staying in a fraternity house on campus with four native Arabic speakers. While on campus, students are discouraged from speaking English at all.
"One month of Arabic here is about one year of normal classes," Montillet said.
Tihansky, 67, was tutored in Arabic language 10 years ago but said the immersion approach to learning language is much more effective than traditional lessons.
"What has shocked me is the fact that I have learned to read and write Arabic within just a few weeks, and I never dreamed that would occur," Tihansky said.
The program was brought to Washington when Michael Shaughnessey, chair of foreign languages at the college, heard about the program being offered in Pittsburgh through the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute. He approached President Tori Haring-Smith with the idea of establishing the program at the college, and soon enough students were signing up to participate.
One of these students, Varga, has studied abroad in Jordan and hopes this program will prepare her for future travels. She studies Spanish and Arabic at California University of Pennsylvania and said the program has already helped her achieve some of her language goals.
"I feel like I can speak a little more fluently," Varga said. "I don't have as much of a problem trying to get out what I want to say."
Like Varga, Zipay also has studied abroad in Jordan, as well as Morocco, and says the immersion program is both for fun and to prepare for a future career.
"I find it to be a relaxing thing to study compared to textbooks, but I also want to find a career that I can link criminal justice and Arabic," Zipay said.
The class will conclude its studies Friday with a traditional celebration of Middle Eastern food, music and culture.
Next year, Montillet hopes to add a business component to the program to address the growing economic bond between the Middle East and the United States.
He also would like to plan a trip to Egypt after the course has ended to put everything the students have learned to use and allow them to make personal connections with native Arabic speakers.