Missoula may not be an international hub that crackles with cultural diversity and the exotic lilt of a global community.
Nevertheless, the classrooms of Hellgate High School are alive with the sounds of foreign languages and the study of faraway lands.
It's a welcome and exciting boom, said Michal Malouf, a Hellgate Spanish teacher.
With a huge grin on her face, Malouf explained:
"We have a cast of thousands this year in our language classes."
Her statement rang true on Monday afternoon when the school's language wing was abuzz with Spanish lessons under way on one side, and Arabic lessons on the other.
Khalil Nasr, the school's visiting Arabic instructor from Egypt, kept an enthusiastic tempo as he guided his students through counting numbers and understanding the days of the week in one class, and in another class, teaching daily life concepts – things like family groups – in Arabic.
So charismatic is Nasr's approach, Malouf said, he captivates his largest class comprised of mostly freshman boys at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon.
"He's that good," Malouf said, her eyes bright with humor.
Nasr is the third Arabic instructor in as many years who is teaching Hellgate and Willard school students.
Nasr is in Missoula on a U.S. Department of State fellowship connected to the 2012 Teachers of Critical Languages Program.
Malouf, who was flown to Egypt to participate in the national selection process, explained that Nasr is one of more than 600 Egyptian instructors who applied to the program, and is one of 10 who was awarded the fellowship.
As part of the same program, 16 Chinese language teachers from China were also selected to participate in the program.
Not only are the numbers of native Chinese and Arabic speakers growing at a faster rate than English speakers, the two languages are considered critical to United States security, Malouf said. The State Department program is designed to increase the study and acquisition of these important world languages in U.S. schools.
That Missoula was awarded the placement of an Arabic teacher is a matter of being bold.
"When we learned about this program three years ago, we thought 'Let's apply and see what happens,' " Malouf said. "And we got accepted."
Nasr's placement is from August 2012 through June 2013.
He leaves behind a wife and his three teenagers in the city of Damanhour, which is a short distance from Alexandria, Egypt, and where he teaches English literature to his Egyptian students.
"I'm an adventurer," Nasr said between classes on Monday. "I like to see how people live.
"In Missoula, it's very nice," he said. "Everything is very exciting and interesting. I like the schools very much and the people I have met are very kind."
In the classroom, Nasr is finding his students to be interested and motivated to learn, and he is finding within them an eagerness to understand his part of the world.
Being far from his home and its traditions is exciting and daunting, Nasr said. Yet the reason and the reward for the sacrifice is self-evident every day in his classrooms at Hellgate and Willard.
"These students are really very good," Nasr said. "They are brilliant and they are so happy to learn.
"I am energized all day by them."
With the language studies comes a sharing of cultural understanding and personal connection, which is what made the program appealing to Nasr.
His work is both as teacher and ambassador.
"It is important to have better communication and understanding between our two countries," Nasr said. "Egypt is no more a desert and camels – Egypt is a very advanced country even though our previous leaders tried to make us ignorant."
As he forges ties to Missoula and inspires his students to know more about Egypt, Arabic and the life he left behind for the year, Nasr said it is easy for him to stay motivated.
"I left everything – my family, my place, to be here," he said.
"My being here must have a meaning, I must have a message to convey and that is to try to do something good for my country."
To that end, Nasr is already making a mark on his Hellgate students.
Arabic, said 18-year-old Zach Frost, "is pretty cool."
He likes the sound and the rhythm of the spoken language, and he likes the idea that the language skill will take him places professionally and personally after high school.
"It's really intense and fun to learn," said Haele Gjetmundsen, 16. "I know it will take me to cool places. And everyone else is really jealous that we have Arabic at Hellgate.
"I'm really happy that we do, and I wanted to
use that opportunity to study it."
Inspired by Nasr's engaging teaching style , 17-year-old Jiah Turner said he's excited too about where the language will take him.
"I want to be able to go anywhere and to speak with anyone," Turner said.
At Hellgate this fall, that opportunity is more ripe than ever, Malouf said.
Not only is Nasr there to teach Arabic, but this week and for a time in October, the school is hosting two different visits from Japanese students, just as a group of visiting German students say goodbye to Missoula.
"It is an exciting time for us," Malouf said. "The whole point is to help our kids – who live in a place as remote as Montana seems sometimes – experience the outside world and get an opportunity to understand other cultures."