Returning from Lebanon with Language

The summer session at CAMES, the Center for Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at AUB, has just ended, and students coming from around the globe have returned home to take stock of studying Arabic intensely in Beirut, Lebanon. AUB NYO spoke with three returning American students.   

For Carlos Campos, a rising senior in government and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), Arabic began as a means to fulfill a language requirement and grew into a passion. “I got into it and really appreciated how challenging and rewarding it felt. I also liked the esoteric nature of it. I was doing something others weren’t.”  

As part of the advanced cohort at CAMES, he took courses in Islamic studies, political science, and modern Arab thought. “I reached a level of fluency I hadn’t had before. I learned to express nuanced political opinions.”  

Ruth Folmar, a history and Middle East Language and Culture major in UT’s Plan II Honors program, came to Arabic through a childhood spent abroad at the American School of Dubai. “My father was the pastor of a nondenominational church there.” She says that though the government required she take Arabic courses, they were poorly taught, “more an attempt to fulfill a requirement.”  

She entered CAMES in the advanced high track. “It was absolutely amazing. I feel like a lot of things came together for me. The program pushed me so much language-wise, being in an Arab country, surrounded by Arabic. It was hugely challenging, and so great to engage with ideas but all in Arabic, with culture and philosophy and literature.” 

And what about living in Lebanon? “Overwhelming craziness and business, but in a beautiful way. About Beirut, I mean, there’s not really a reason why you should like it, but you love it. It’s hot, rent is high, there’s traffic, but it’s just wonderful. I think it’s the people, the food, the vitality.” 

Kristen Matta, a rising sophomore in economics at George Washington University (GW), came to CAMES as a heritage learner. “I knew some Arabic because my family is Lebanese.” She took Arabic 101 her first semester at GW. “Then I decided to look online for a program and found CAMES. I applied. I usually go to Lebanon in the summer, so I thought, I could go and place in a higher level when I got back to GW.  

Though I was a bit overwhelmed, I definitely improved a lot...”  

She says that the program’s approach of teaching Arabic and dialect simultaneously as one integrated language was helpful. “They let me combine colloquial terms and standard Arabic. That was great because it let me express myself better.  

“Overall, I really enjoyed and learned a lot,” she says. “I’m happy I did it.”