When life gives you baklava, you eat it. This profound realization is only one of many that I’ve learned in my first semester of taking Arabic at Tufts.
I came into Tufts knowing that I wanted to take a few Arabic courses because, even though I speak Arabic fluently in my Syrian household, I lack literacy in the language. Arabic is my first language and one that I speak every day with my family, so I ignorantly assumed that any Arabic class I would take, especially Arabic I, would be incredibly boring and easy.
On the first day of class, my Arabic professor, Professor Rana Abdul-Aziz, informed me that I would only be learning Modern Standard Arabic, not a specific dialect of Arabic. It was then, in that moment, that any sense of comfort or familiarity that I felt for Arabic suddenly vanished. Modern Standard Arabic isn’t really spoken, but rather used in formal writing and speeches; I had absolutely no experience with it and that terrified me.
I soon, however, realized that formality doesn’t have to be restrictive. I started learning about deeper meanings and origins of words that I never thought twice about before. “Taalib,” for example, directly translates to “student,” but literally means “asker” of knowledge. I learned that my Syrian dialect fits under the greater Levantine dialect, which greatly differs from the Arabic spoken in North Africa and the Gulf. I discovered gender-inclusive terms that are making Arabic, a heavily gendered language, become a language that all can be correctly addressed and represented by. Overall, I came to the (shocking) conclusion that my way of speaking Arabic isn’t the only “right” way of doing it and that claiming a language doesn’t mean I know everything about it.
After I let go of the stress and worry associated with leaving behind most of what I knew and opened my mind up for growth, I was able to notice all the beautiful aspects of the Arabic department. First, it draws in people of so many diverse interests and backgrounds. For example, my Arabic class is a mixed group filled with some people who speak a dialect of Arabic at home and others who haven’t heard a word of Arabic in their lives. People from across majors, disciplines, and identities all come together in the Arabic classroom. Second, the Arabic department at Tufts truly creates a warm, welcoming environment through always providing engaging extracurricular activities. I often stop by the Arabic Storytime, where I can drink fresh Morrocan tea, munch on a piece of baklava (always accept when offered!), and listen to contemporary and/or reflective Arabic pieces.
I also recently attended a lesson on how to dance debke, a traditional type of dance that’s practiced across the Levant; I made sure to bring my friends along and have fun, all while paying very close attention— I can’t wait to show off my new moves soon! Third, the Department challenges conventional approaches to language-learning through complete language immersion. The small class sizes, frequent review sessions, and fun activities all make learning Arabic a rewarding and fascinating experience.
So, if you’re thinking about mastering a new language both for its beauty and practicality, learning about tens of hundreds of different cultures, and frequently eating lots of free baklava, consider taking an Arabic course!