The Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies Program, known as AMES, is an interdisciplinary program offered to Choate students interested in the history, culture, and languages of the Middle East. According to Ms. Katharine Jewett, French teacher and Language Department Head, Arabic was taught at Choate in the 1970's by Mr. Muneer Sada, but Mr. Sada's decision to return to Lebanon, his home country, marked the end of Choate's Arabic program. During a curriculum review in 2005, the Arabic program was revived and the school hired Mr. Jeremy Kurzyniec as the new Arabic teacher.
As the Arabic program continued to develop, Mr. Kursyniec pointed out that Choate students were developing a high level of proficency, but not a full understanding of Middle Eastern culture. From there, the AMES program was proposed and pursued by Ms. Kathleen Wallace, Dean of Academic Affairs. Mr. Kursyniec was succeeded by Mr. Georges Chahwan in 2010, when the school also added a second year of Arabic to Choate's curriculum.
"Choate wanted to distinguish itself by not just offering [Arabic] itself, but also complementing [Arabic] with courses in [Middle Eastern] politics and literature," explained Mr. Chahwan.
Unlike Choate's other signature academic programs, AMES does not require an application. Fifth formers may start the program during the fall term, and complete the program by graduation. Students who complete AMES are considered to have fulfilled the school's graduation requirements in language. In addition to completing the first year courses in Arabic, AMES students are required to also take three one-term electives: Modern Middle East, Islamic Civilizations of the Middle East, and Arabic Literature. "The Modern Middle East course started just after 9/11 in response to the questions that America was asking about why 9/11 ever happened," said Mr. Neil Shimmield, HPRSS teacher who teaches both Modern Middle East and Islamic Civilizations of the Middle East. According to Mr. Shimmield, Arabic Literature and Islamic Civilizations of the Middle East were established in 2011 in order to finalize AMES.
This rigorous program attracts not only students interested in learning about the Middle East during their Choate careers, but also students who hope to study the Middle East in college. A.J. Serlemitsos '13, a sixth former in the program, explained his decision to ultimately enroll in the AMES program,"In university, I definitely see myself studying Arabic, and probably [being] either a minor or major in Middle Eastern Studies. In the far future, I definitely can see myself as… a diplomat or policy-maker, doing something related to the Middle East."
Graduates of the AMES program have since continued their studies of the Middle East after leaving Choate. Cason Crane '11 began his two gap years by traveling to the Middle East, studying Arabic in Lebanon, and volunteering with non-profits in Israel. "In my year in the Middle East, I found that what I learned in the [AMES] program was invaluable in terms of understanding what I was experiencing," said Crane. "The program made me feel a lot more prepared, and it allowed me to process these experiences, conversations, and lessons on on a deeper level than some or most of my classmates."