This summer, Choate will launch its first Arabic Abroad program, expanding the new Arabic section of the Language Department.
Available exclusively to Choate students, the program will be located in Jordan, lasting from late June to late July. Similar to Choate's other summer abroad programs, the students in the Arabic program will live with host families during the duration of their time in the Middle East. Mr. Georges Chahwan, who also teaches French and is Choate's only Arabic teacher, plans to accompany the students on the trip.
After an unsuccessful attempt to start an Arabic program in the 1960s, Choate rebooted its Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies Program in 2007. Since his arrival on campus in 2010, Mr. Chahwan has expanded and developed Choate's Arabic program. "Choate did the best thing they could have done to hire Georges," said Gabriella Flax '13, one of twenty students in the Arabic program. "His teaching style is very informal which makes a hard language ten times easier to learn."
Prior to last year, the School only offered Arabic courses in literature and history. In 2010, Choate officially instituted the Arabic and Middle Eastern studies (AMES) curriculum. AMES offers studies of Intensive Beginning Arabic, Second Year Arabic, Islamic Civilization of the Middle East, the Modern Middle East, and Arabic Literature: The Passion of the Arabs. With the exception of students who have previous Arabic language experience, all of Choate's Arabic students are fifth and sixth formers who have either completed their language requirement or are taking Arabic for that purpose.
Because of the recent success and interest in the Arabic program, the school has decided to start a summer abroad program for students. "An Arabic program was the logical step, given how our school's language program is evolving," said Mr. Trent Nutting, Choate's Director of Summer Programs. "Choate has made an institutional commitment to Arabic study with the new AMES curriculum."
An abroad program will undoubtedly increase the depth of Choate's Arabic program, according to Mr. Chahwan. Mr. Chahwan said, "An abroad program is not only complimentary but essential for someone who is learning a language. Arabic is not an exception." Luisa Andonie '12, a first year Arabic student, said, "I think it's a great idea. At this point, the program is probably best for second year students."
The structure of the program is still in the developing stages. This past summer, Mr. Chahwan, originally from Lebanon, traveled throughout the Middle East in search of a suitable location for Choate's new program. Mr. Chahwan, together with Ms. Anne Armour, Director of Term Abroad Programs, and Mr. Nutting, are strongly considering holding the program in Amman, Jordan. The program may be run through AmidEast, an American language center based in Washington D.C.. Mr. Nutting explained that the final logistics of the program would be worked out in the coming weeks.
Forms of Arabic
Students will be taught MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) in the classroom. In addition, they will be exposed to colloquial Arabic in and around Amman, as the language itself has many different dialects. Mr. Chahwan will teach one of the classes in Jordan.
Yet as always with term abroad programs, much of the learning will be done outside the classroom. "In any successful language immersion program, life experience—which is to say, one's day to day existence in the site country—becomes the true classroom," said Mr. Nutting in an email. "As such, students in the Arabic study abroad program will have ample time outside of the classroom to soak up the host country's culture and dialect." Each week, the students will take a field trip to a well-known and culturally significant site in Jordan, for example Wadi Rum and Madaba.
Many students have already expressed interest in attending the summer abroad program. "I really would like to go," said Flax. Yumi Masuda '13, a first year Arabic student, also expressed interest.
"Since it is the first time, we decided to make the program an excursion for just Choate students," said Mr. Chahwan. "If enough people want to go on the program, it may become a selective program," said Ms. Armour. "We are hoping that the kids who present themselves will be strong students and good citizens. If a younger student is capable, we will consider him/her for the program; however, we will give preference to juniors and seniors." As of now, it is undecided how many students can go on the trip.
"If we receive positive feedback, we may consider an Arabic term abroad program," said Mr. Chahwan. "However, it is a little bit complicated because we don't have a third year course as part of our Arabic program yet. So, when students return from a term abroad, they will have already taken all of Choate's Arabic classes."
This past summer, Mr. Chahwan also visited King's Academy, which is located 35 km south of Amman, Jordan. King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan, a Deerfield Academy Graduate, started King's Academy four years ago. King's Academy is modeled after the Eight Schools Association of America, of which Choate is one. In the future, Mr. Chahwan hopes to run the possible Arabic term abroad program through King's Academy, where Choate students will be able to continue their academics, athletics, and extracurriculars just as they would be able to at Choate. Yet, "This is a long term project," said Mr. Chahwan.
"Choate realizes that traditional education is not going to be enough to keep students educated for the world we are living in now," said Flax. "The fact that Choate is going to offer this summer program and does offer an Arabic program shows that Choate is a real post modern institution that is trying to get its students to the next level. Programs like this and the Science Research Project help to expose kids in high school to what the real world is really like," summed up Flax.