Instead of traveling to Egypt for the 2012 winter intersession, study abroad students from Hunter's Arabic division spent January in Amman, Jordan, where they studied Modern Standard Arabic at the Qasid Institute.
The program, which taught students the equivalent of Arabic 101, was previously hosted in Egypt to introduce the beginning Arabic learners to the popular Egyptian dialect, which Hunter's Arabic division in New York teaches in tandem with formal Arabic. However, because many students returned from the program last year just days before the violent protests in Cairo broke out, which ultimately lead to the ousting of Egypt's authoritarian government, the department changed its study abroad destination to accommodate safety concerns.
The new program was moved to Jordan, where teachers did not expose students to the Egyptian dialect that they are expected to recognize in Arabic 102. Senior Alison Dougherty, one of the eight CUNY students on the Jordan trip, found the transition to 102 jarring. "The fact that I enjoyed the [Jordan] trip so much has helped with the frustration I'm feeling [learning the new dialect]", said the psychology major. "If I didn't have that experience I wouldn't be as compelled to move forward as I am." Many students have expressed frustration regarding the lack of background they were given in modern Arabic despite being expected to be prepared to use it in 102 level courses.
Hunter's Arabic division is the most recent and among the smallest language divisions in Hunter's Classics and Oriental Department. However, with its study abroad efforts and intensive 101 and 102 summer curriculum to place students into more advanced classes, the department has continued to attract growing numbers of students.
The increased enrollment in the division that opened at Hunter in Fall of 2004 reflects a national trend across colleges and universities. According to a 2010 Modern Language Association report, Arabic had a 46.3 percent increase in Arabic class enrollments between 2006 and 2009, with 35,083 students enrolled nationwide.
Hunter's Arabic division offers both a language and culture minor, and has changed its curriculum – along with the Russian division – since 2011 to offer "heritage" class sections for native speakers.
"Even for first generation students who know a language – parents often speak to them like they're children," said Tamara Green, Chair of the Classics and Oriental Department, explaining the reasoning behind the heritage speaker initiative.
In addition to increasing the number of language sections offered in the division since its inception, the Classics' chair emphasized the department's commitment to offering classes on culture. The Arabic division has offered classes like Arabic Cinema and Introduction to the Quran.
The department also prides itself on offering courses abroad in the winter and summer semesters to immerse students in various Arabic cultures.
"I went [to Jordan] expecting to cover my head and not being allowed to talk to anybody, because the media portrays everything in the Middle East to be overbearing and not accepting of foreigners – but at least in Jordan it's not like that at all," said Dougherty, "My biggest complaint was the weather."
Sophomore Christiana Desrosiers enrolled in Arabic classes to get in touch with her roots. "I was interested in Arabic since I was five," she said. "When I found out that Hunter offers it, I decided to take it to learn more about that side of my family."
However, it's the Classics and Oriental Department's mission, said Green, to communicate to non-native speakers that they can learn the language too. "Many students have perceptions about how difficult a language is," she said.
According to the US Department of Defense ranking of language difficulty – based on the number of hours it would take a native English speaker to become proficient – Arabic, Chinese and Japanese, among others, fall in Category IV, classifying them as the most difficult languages to learn.
Christopher Stone, Chair of the Arabic Division, said there was a high attrition particularly among students without previous exposure to the language.
Beginning the 2011-2012 academic year, Amira Mohamed Saleh, a Fulbright scholar from Egypt, became the second teaching assistant in the division, participating in language classes to create an immersion-like environment.
The department offers these courses to acknowledge the culture of our students, said Green. "It's a recognition of what it's like to live in New York City."