BERKELEY -- This summer when Stephanie Bahr walks along Telegraph Avenue, Arabic words float into her mind.
"I call it my Arabic hangover," she says. "A word like 'mush mais' will pop up and after a minute, I think, 'Oh, that means sunshine."'
If you were studying Arabic five hours a day, five days a week, plus four or five hours of homework a night, Arabic words might float into your head too. Bahr, from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, is one of about 70 students taking an intensive, eight-week course in elementary Arabic this summer at the University of California, Berkeley.
They're part of a nationwide crush of students who have enrolled in Arabic courses since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
As America's attention focuses on the Middle East, the number of UC Berkeley students enrolled in elementary Arabic has more than doubled since 9-11, says Gary Penders, summer school director. "Students are
taking peace and conflict studies, courses on Islam and more are taking Hebrew as well.
"We even have a special course this summer teaching the dialect of Arabic they speak in Iraq," he said.
Logic and traditional Berkeley liberal paranoia would indicate that a number of students might be from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But none of the two dozen students in
Bahr's class, taught by Middle Eastern Studies Lecturer Hatem Bazian, volunteered that information.
Instead, students said they were drawn to the class by an interest in the culture and the music.
Mishana Hosseinioun, a Berkeley sophomore of Iranian descent, said she met Arabic speakers for the first time on a visit to Cairo. "People were so warm and genuine, I felt I had to learn the language," she said.
Eyoel Gebrcyesus, who is Eritrean, spent 10 years as a refugee in Saudi Arabia after the Ethiopian-Eritrea conflict began.
"I used to speak Arabic very fluently, but after I came to the U.S.,I forgot it," he said in American-accented English. "I want to learn it again."
Bahr, who came here from Canada for the summer course, said the music hooked her as well. "I went to a Middle Eastern dance and fell in love with the music," she said. "This course is hard -- but it's the best
pain you will ever experience."
Muhammad Siddiq, UC Berkeley associate professor of Arabic literature, sees the surge in interest with hope. The number of beginning students has gone up considerably, not just in summer school, but during the regular school year, he said.
"A decade ago, we would have 10 or 12 students. Now we have three or four full sections -- 50 or 60 students in Elementary Arabic," Siddiq said.
His hopes are that students can see beyond the present conflict and learn about the beauty and history of the vibrant culture. "It's very short-sighted to neglect a whole culture until a moment of crisis," he said.
"Something happens and then the government scurries around to see if there are any native speakers," he said. "It's ridiculous. America should perhaps have a greater vision of the rest of the world. We hope these classes will help create common ground -- a dialogue between cultures instead of a clash."
There are about 8 million Muslims and Arabs in the United States," Siddiq said. "But not all Arabs are Muslims, of course, and not all Muslims are Arab. But one can assume that perhaps half of the 8 million come from the Arab world, which extends all the way from the Gulf, Syria and Lebanon to Morocco."
It's also a given that most second generation Arab-Americans don't speak Arabic fluently, Siddiq said.
One of those is Alif Wensky, a UC Berkeley junior. "My dad is Polish, my mom is Palestinian and I have 17 first cousins," he said. "They all speak Arabic. I want to learn to speak, so I can talk to them."