Special Arabic program renewed for second year

After a successful debut last year, the Margaret and Edward W. Gnehm, Jr. Summer Honors Program in Arabic Language Studies is returning to GW for a second year.

Named after the GW graduate and former ambassador to Jordan, the 12-week Arabic intensive program is being offered tuition-free to students who have a strong commitment to understanding the language. Last summer’s course was offered exclusively to students in the Honors Program, but this year’s application process has been opened to students in the Elliott School of International Affairs and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Grae Baxter, director of the Honors Program, said the mission behind the program is to give the students an understanding of the Arabic culture by learning the language. The program is designed to immerse students in the Arab culture and language for two six-week sessions.

In the first session, participants take a level one Arabic course and continue to take level two in the second session. There will also be another two classes for students wishing to take levels three and four of the language.

Mohssen Esseesy, an assistant professor of Arabic who will help the Honors Program select two professors for the upcoming session, said the program is extremely intensive.

“The curriculum is more rigorous,” Esseesy said. “It is the equivalent of one academic year.”

Essesey said the inclusion of more students into an Arabic summer program ties into the increasing popularity of the language as a whole.

“I hope that Arabic will continue to grow over the summer and over the academic year,” said Esseesy, who began teaching at the University last fall. “I think Arabic is currently designated as a critical language for the (United States) and many students are aware of that fact.”

He said the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literatures is looking into adding more Arabic classes for next year, and creating a permanent summer program. Esseesy added that the department is also looking into creating a Semitic major that would have Arabic and Hebrew tracks, but he emphasized that planning for the potential area of study is extremely preliminary.

The Arabic program is also expanding by seeking to fill a full-time position to begin next fall, Esseesy added.

While the future may open the Arabic summer course to even more students, Baxter said this year’s selectivity is based less on the applicant’s grade point average and more on his or her commitment to continuing the language after completing the program. Twenty-nine students out of 60 applicants were admitted to the course last summer, and 13 of them went on to take a level three Arabic class last semester.

Students who participate in the course visit several Arab country embassies. Participants are also invited to a dinner at the home of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

“The feeling is that the students who apply and who are accepted are special,” Baxter said. “We wanted to add attractive programming and enrichment and fun.”

Senior Emmanuel Dash participated in the program last summer and said he learned a great deal of Arabic in 12 weeks of study.

“It was a great educational experience that has made me serious about learning the language,” Dash wrote in an e-mail.

Dash added that his professor “took a real joy in teaching us the language, as well as the culture.”

The program also attracts students who are unable to fit Arabic courses into their fall and spring semester schedules. Junior Josh Bennett is one such student; he will be enrolling in the upcoming Arabic three and four sessions.

“I know enough that I really want to know more,” said Bennett, who took part in the curriculum last summer.

Although the program is free, housing is not provided. Baxter said the classes are scheduled in the late afternoon to accommodate students who plan on having a summer internship.

-Gabriel Okolski contributed to this report.

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