For Dr. Zeina Schlenoff, an FSU professor who teaches Arabic, it was a matter of expanding the education of young kids on a sorely misunderstood region of the world.Dr. Schlenoff, who hails from Lebanon, is the director of the newly established Arabic Outreach Program at FSU. Funded by a yearly grant from Aramco, the program seeks to teach elementary and middle school students in Tallahassee about various subjects concerning the 21 countries of the Arab world.
"It really focuses on different regions and countries of the Middle East and it's mostly about history, geography and cultural issues," Dr. Schlenoff says. "But we stay away from politics and religion."
In an increasingly globalized world, Dr. Schlenoff notes, it's crucial to know more about the cultures and customs that shape other countries.
"It's important to learn more about the [Arab world]. The more information that people have, they can make up their own minds in a better way and erase their fear of the unknown," Dr. Schlenoff says. "It's very important that on a campus like FSU or a town like Tallahassee to spread the culture of other communities and groups who live and study here."
The program is now gearing up to begin teaching in the spring for six weeks. Local schools that have agreed to participate so far include the Magnolia School, Gilchrist Elementary School, Springwood Elementary School and the Maclay School. Yet they continue their search for more.
Currently, the program has 15 student volunteers who will be trained to act as teachers. They are drawn from FSU students like Kelly Baker, a junior double majoring in international affairs and Middle Eastern studies.
Baker was motivated to become part of the program because growing up, she never knew much about the Middle East. Her elementary school in Greensboro, NC and middle school near Melbourne, FL both glossed over the region in their academic curriculum. Baker hopes to change that for local Tallahassee students.
"We are now fighting two wars in that area of the world but I learned nothing about it. The Middle East was
never really brought up," Baker says. "Since young kids are eager to learn new things, we're going to teach them about the culture of Arab countries and words in the Arab language."
To get involved, Baker says, you don't need to be a Middle Eastern studies major like her. The Arabic Outreach Program is open to all students and all one needs is a desire to teach about the Middle East.
"If you're interested in joining, there are no prerequisites that you have to meet. Also, it counts for community service hours," Baker says.
The Arabic Outreach Program continues to raise its profile on campus. On Nov. 13, the organization hosted the weekly International Coffee Hour, where an estimated 250 students and faculty crowded into the Center for Global Engagement to enjoy tasty baklava served with mint tea.
Around two-dozen students also performed the Dabke, a traditional Arab folk circle dance that has its roots in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.
The organization also has plans to organize more events on campus in the spring. In early February, the group plans to organize an Arab women film festival at the Student Life Cinema.
Dr. Schlenoff added that they measure the progress they are making on campus by the amount of people at their events. Often, they are well attended.
"Even though it was homecoming week, quite a few of them still came to our coffee hour," Dr. Schlenoff says. "This was pretty good."