WASHINGTON, PA (June 18, 2012)—What better way to learn a language and develop an understanding of a culture than to spend time with peers from the country and travel there, immersed in the part of the world that speaks the language?
In collaboration with the American Middle East Institute (AMEI), Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) is hosting an innovative Arabic cultural and language immersion program for a group of 30 local, U.S. and Omani high school and college students intent on experiencing Middle Eastern language and culture.
“The program represents a partnership among higher education, nonprofits and the government, in this case, the Omani Ministry of Higher Education,” said Michael Shaughnessy, Ph.D., chair of the modern languages department at W&J.
Eight high school students, four from the area and four from Oman, and 22 college students, 11 from Oman and the other 11 from colleges and universities around the country, including one from W&J, are participating. After three weeks at W&J, the group will travel to Oman to continue the six-week program.
“On each side, students and faculty travel with the group to learn about the other culture, language and pedagogy,” Shaughnessy said. “The Omani students in the United States are helping our students learn the dialect, customs and culture of Oman while simultaneously learning about U.S. culture, the Pittsburgh region and practicing English. While the Middle East is a bit unstable and the demand for Arabic is still rising, Oman provides a modern, safe and open location for American students to learn Arabic and the culture of the Gulf region.”
Four instructors from Oman and four from the United States are working together in the program, living and traveling with the students.
“For the Americans, the idea is to give the students the skills they need to ‘survive’ in Oman without a guide because they know the language and understand the culture,” said Georges Montillet, W&J adjunct professor and director of the program for AMEI. “For the Omani students, the main goal is to introduce them to W&J and American culture in general and teach them how to write a research paper, think critically and find success in an academic setting.”
Participant Olivia Jones is a rising junior at the University of Tennessee. She is studying U.S. foreign policy in the Gulf region. She will be studying abroad next school year at the American University of Sharjah.
“This program is really helping me learn more about the Omani language and culture,” Jones said.