Interview by Steven Gertz
The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies offers dedicated Arabic language students from the United States the opportunity to master their skills in an intensive Arabic language program at Qatar University (QU) in Doha for an entire academic year (September to June). CCAS interviewed one of these students, Amanda Angri, about her recent study of Arabic in Qatar.
What kind of preparation did you have in Arabic before applying for a place with the Qatar Scholarship Program (QSP)?
In May 2012, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from Fordham University in Political Science and Middle East Studies (with honors) and a minor in Arabic. I then applied for and received the Fordham University Campion Summer Scholar Grant with which I continued my studies in Arabic at the University of Texas at Austin’s Arabic Summer Institute. Through this program, I studied both Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and the Levantine dialect, both of which helped me prepare for my program in Qatar.
Tell us a bit about the QSP. How is the program structured?
This demanding 20-hour a week academic year-long program is comprised of four different language levels, and each level consists of either three or four classes that are divided as follows: reading and writing, listening and speaking, media, and Arabic literature. Although our classes focused on MSA, my Palestinian, Qatari, and Egyptian professors each brought his or her own cultural, political, linguistic, and religious points of view to the classroom. Adding to this cultural diversity, students attending the class came from fifteen different countries. As you can imagine, class discussions focused on a wide range of cultural and custom-specific topics.
The program was very rigorous. My professor for my listening-and-speaking class required that each student present twice a week on various topics, while my class focused on reading and writing required that we write essays twice a week. Professors were regularly available outside of class for language assistance (including even lunch breaks), were willing to review homework and presentations, and provided specific advice for improving linguistic ability, which I took advantage of as often as possible. English was never used in or out of the classroom, as the target language is the primary focus of the program.
What did you do outside the classroom to help you learn Arabic?
Determined to learn the Gulf dialect, I arranged for a weekly one-on-one tutorial with my Qatari professor. I also arranged for an extra weekly political analysis writing assignment with the same professor, which improved not only my writing skills but also my understanding of Gulf politics.
Our program also organized multiple field trips, including a trip to the desert, the Islamic Museum, the Museum of Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al-Thani, and the Al-Jazeera headquarters, to name a few. These trips complemented our Arabic-language acquisition whilst engaging us with and immersing us in Qatari, Gulf, Arab, and Islamic cultures. Furthermore, the female dorm supervisors organized bi-weekly trips to various sūqs and shopping centers and sponsored events that took place on the compound, such as the annual Qatar National Day celebration. During that event, Al-Raya, a local Qatari newspaper, interviewed me about my program and experience in Qatar.
What other activities did you participate in during your time in Qatar?
I taught English and math to Qatari students at a local learning center, where I was the only teacher who specialized in educating students with special needs. Because of this, I was awarded “Teacher of the Month” in May 2013. Through this volunteer position, I created a video with two colleagues for Qatar’s first national reading campaign titled “Laysh: To Read or Not to Read,” whereby students expressed the importance of reading.
In addition to this, I was the Arabic teaching assistant for the Qatar Foundation’s Hamad bin Khalifa University Translation and Interpreting Institute’s first Arabic program that taught MSA and the Gulf dialect to mid-career Qatar Foundation professionals. With the professor of the program, we held weekly meetings to discuss a 1990’s Qatari TV-program to ensure that we were learning the dialect efficiently.
Tell us about your role in Qatar University’s first Language Exchange Program.
I was the founder and president of Qatar University’s first Language Exchange Program. This is a program for all female dorm students at the university who want to improve their English and/or Modern Standard or dialectal Arabic. We met on a weekly basis for a few hours and discussed various cultural, religious, and professional topics. I ran half of the program in English and the remaining half in Arabic to enable all participants to benefit from the program equally. This truly improved not only our linguistic abilities in the sought-after language, but also the relationships amongst female dorm students, some of whom met through the program.
What was it like living in an all-female dormitory in Qatar?
The female dorm is composed of about 200 young women, most of whom are from the Gulf but who also come from all over the world. The dorm created a hospitable environment for program participants to form friendships with those native to the Gulf and to better understand the culture and customs of the region. I formed a close friendship with an Omani housemate, and we began a weekly one-on-one language program during which I helped her with speaking American English and she helped me improve my Gulf dialect. Additionally, we would watch an Omani political channel during our leisure time and discuss Omani politics together.
I understand that you were interviewed on Qatari television. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
At the beginning of the program, I was interviewed by Al-Rayyan, another local Qatari newspaper. (Skip to 46:00 to watch the program.) The interview focused on my reason for choosing the Qatar Scholarship Program as an outlet to further my Arabic language skills. I spoke about the need for Arabic-language teachers in the United States and my desire to be one in the near future.
What is next for you?
This summer, I will run an Arabic summer camp for children and complete applications for graduate programs. Beginning in the fall, I will be the first Arabic language teacher in an inner- city New Jersey high school, teaching MSA and dialectical Arabic. I will also be running the school’s Arabic language department.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Georgetown for selecting me, and Qatar University for granting me a scholarship, which made all of this possible. The Qatar Scholarship Program not only advanced my (MSA and Qatari) Arabic language skills but also facilitated my intimate and first-hand knowledge of Qatari and Gulf culture, religion, and customs—all knowledge that will ultimately enhance my language-teaching skills.