A bit of respite at the fifteen hundred year old Mar Saba monastery nestled in the Judean desert.
The Fordham University International Political Economy and Development (IPED) program has graciously provided me with funding to further my studies in Arabic language via the Language Immersion Studies Awards (LISA). Having already been acquainted with the fundamentals of the Arabic language between my studies at Fordham as an undergraduate and my study abroad experience in Jordan, I was thrilled to take this opportunity to enhance my linguistic ability in pursuit of professional proficiency. I firmly believe that there is no better way to truly master a language than immersion, forcing yourself to converse in your non-native tongue on a daily basis. In a few weeks, here I have made enormous leaps and bounds in my language ability.
A scenic view of the plains of Northern Israel from the El-Muhraqa Monastery in the heights of Mount Carmel.
I have chosen to do my immersion in two different locations, the West Bank city of Bethlehem and the Druze village of Daliyat El Karmel. For my first month of intensive language learning, I studied at Bethlehem University, spending most of the day in the classroom during week and utilizing my lessons extensively on weekend excursions to nearby cities in the Palestinian Territories. Bethlehem University is a renowned institution with a strong Arabic language department under the auspices of Dr. Moin Halloun, a specialist in Palestinian Arabic. For my second month of language immersion, I embedded myself within a Druze village on Mount Carmel. Living here for a month has provided me with a unique insight into Druze society and familiarized me with the dialectal idiosyncrasies of the Syrian Arabic which is spoken here. Living in a host family setting here where Arabic is exclusively spoken ensures that my learning continues outside the classroom. In-country language learning is particularly important for Arabic as it is a language with regional dialects that differ substantially from the formal Modern Standard Arabic used in professional settings and the media. Consequently, students outside the Arab world can spend years studying a language in their home countries only to find their Arabic nearly useless for conversational purposes on the ground. There are major differences in letter pronunciation, vocabulary, verbs, sentence structure, and grammar that one cannot adjust to without immersion. Immersion has allowed me to hone my speaking and listening skills in practical settings and for realistic purposes.
The campus of Bethlehem University, a former De La Salle Christian Brother’s school turned first West Bank university at the behest of John Paul II’s recognition of the need for higher education in the Palestinian Territories.
Focusing on practical skills such as language learning has become increasingly more important in a world where the global migration level, and consequently cross-cultural contact, is at its highest in decades. The IPED program’s holistic approach to educating development professionals empowers them to handle complex challenges with pragmatic solutions. A key component of these solutions involves communication and linguistic competency. I strongly encourage future IPED students to take on the task, albeit tremendously challenging, of learning another language for professional purposes. Doing so will undoubtedly compliment the other practical skills that the IPED program stands to offer.
Robyn Emory-Murray IPED ’18
Robyn Emory-Murray (IPED ’18) is a recipient of the 2017 Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for Mandarin in Xi’an, China. CLS is an eight-week intensive language and cultural immersion program targeted toward students of critical languages as defined by the U.S. Department of State. This fully-funded government program offers students the opportunity to live among the cultures whose languages they are studying while fully integrating themselves into the language itself.
Datong Furong Park lights at night
Robyn with the Terracotta Warriors 兵马俑
Robyn received the award with the help of the Office of Prestigious Fellowships, who assisted her with the lengthy application process. When asked about the application process, she said, “The Office of Prestigious Fellows was invaluable. They helped me frame my thoughts, answers, and attributes in a way that really spoke to the program and its goals.” The application was due in the Fall, and awards were announced in March of the next year.
Robyn at the Kongtong Shan (崆峒山) Bridge to Heaven
Robyn’s goals are to continue to pursue Mandarin in the hopes of using it as she pursues a career in economic and international security studies, specifically centered on the Sino-American relationship.
The reward for the night hike, sunrise from East Peak of Hua Shan
Robyn had the following advice for those interested in the program: “Go all in. There is a pretty intense language pledge and those that stick to it really see amazing results. At the same time, though, don’t stress yourself out. You will have a lot more success if you take care of yourself and remember that learning a new language should also be fun!”
The lights during the Hua Shan (华山) night hike
Robyn on the famous Hua Shan Plank Walk
Robyn is a full-time student in the IPED program and a recipient of the Public Service Assistantship.
I studied Arabic for a period of 6 weeks at the Arab Academy in downtown Cairo. Arab Academy offers courses in both colloquial and classical Arabic. Having lived in Egypt before and having an acceptable grasp of colloquial Arabic, I chose to study the classical form of the language.
David at the Arab Academy
Arab Academy is an exceptional institution. I will 100 percent recommend it to anyone looking to learn the language. Classes aren’t group sessions. Every student has their own tutor which allows you to learn at your own pace and ask as many questions as you want. My classes typically started between 12pm and ended 3pm. The first hour was spent practicing basic responses to common questions while the other two were spent mastering the alphabets, forming words with them and eventually whole sentences. The teachers were very patient and understanding.
Can’t make it to class for some reason? No problem, Arab academy offers classes online as well. They organize online sessions for students unable to be physically present in class for whatever reason. Students are also given access to their online resources and can self-study at their own pace and complete assignments online as well.
Arab Academy is also very diverse. Students come from just about everywhere…the US, Chile, Europe, everywhere.
Jumping for joy about Arabic!
Unfortunately, I did not do much travelling while in Egypt partly because, well, I had been to most places prior to this trip (completed my undergrad degree in Egypt). I did get to reconnect with old friends though and visit places I didn’t get to visit while I was an undergrad such as the Cairo Tower from which you can observe all of downtown Cairo and many parts of the city west and east of the Nile River. I also visited the “Time Square” of Cairo aka “where every Cairo resident avoids” aka “Oldest tourist trap of the Middle East”- The pyramids. It was fun though don’t get me wrong.
David at Giza
Being that it was Ramadan, I was able to share in the breaking of fast (Iftar) with friends after 6pm everyday during the period which made the experience all the more interesting. I thank IPED for giving me this unforgettable opportunity in Cairo!
Three IPED students – Armand Aquino, Katie McCann, and Jackie Yap – spent their summer in France for an intensive French language study and cultural immersion with an Alliance Française Institution. Armand was in Toulouse; Katie was in Bordeaux; and Jackie began in Toulouse then continued on to Lyon.
Armand and Jackie were recipients of the 2016 Language Immersion Study Award (LISA) while Katie is an Arrupe Fellow who decided to use her summer grant from her fellowship to pursue French language study. French language study is part of their professional development to further their careers in international development.
Learning French at an Alliance Française Institution in France is a great opportunity because of the diversity of its students. Aside from the structured lectures, Alliance Française organizes a number of activities for its students so they can immerse themselves into the French culture. Such activities include guided tours of museums and the city, “art” hunting, and cheese (and wine) tasting (this is France, after all).
In addition, Alliance Francaise arranges homestays for the students which enables them to continue speaking in French even at home.
Armand and Katie shared that the summer experience has also been great opportunity for them to expand their network in the international development space. Both have met people working in international organizations such as the International Red Cross and World Food Programme who like them are studying French for their own professional development.
When asked for advice to students considering a language study for the summer, Jackie said that “If you are just starting out in the language, I encourage you to take advantage of the language class (audit) at Fordham. It helped me learn the basics and allowed me to be more confident in practicing the language. Also, do not be afraid to practice and make mistakes. Many, if not everyone, appreciate the fact that you are trying to learn French.”
Armand in Toulouse, France
Jackie gives a two-thumbs up to the French Cuisine even though she accidentally ordered frog legs despite the waiter’s attempt to translate what “grenouille” means.
Katie in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
Katie, Jackie, and Armand showing their IPED pride at Lourdes, France
Ryan Barthel, Language Immersion Study Award recipient, wrote late summer about his experience studying Traditional Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan:
你們好! I am in my third week learning Mandarin Chinese at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Kaohsiung, Taiwan through a Language Immersion Study Award (LISA). Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan, located at the southern end of the island, and is a major port and manufacturing center. Wenzao is a university dedicated to language study, and trains students in European and Asian languages, as well as instruction of English and Chinese. I chose to study Mandarin because of the advantages it will give me in my search for a career and fellowships after IPED as well as help me to better connect with Mandarin speaking friends. Even though it is among the most widely spoken languages in the world, the US government lists it as a lesser studied language in America. Trade relationships and alliances in this region ensure it will remain important to the US.
Ryan with host family
Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages
Visiting Cijin Island, near the port of Kaohsiung
While immersion study can be exhausting, it provides nearly unlimited opportunity to practice. My fellow Mandarin learners come from every continent (including a Bronx native!), so it is often easier to converse among ourselves in Mandarin, even outside the classroom. While Mandarin is often cited as a particularly difficult language to learn by many people, the underlying grammar is much simpler than English. Learning in Taiwan has been a great experience so far. Taiwanese people are very welcoming to foreigners, though this can sometimes make true immersion more difficult (at least for someone as obviously foreign as myself) because anyone who speaks English will try and practice with you! Longstanding links with the US and Japan make cultural adjustment bit easier as well. A challenge is that Taiwan is one of only a handful of places that use traditional Chinese characters. Obviously, this is a plus if you want to learn traditional characters, but it could be a challenge if you want to live or work in China. One simple tip for any language learners: Buy things in your new language! Shopkeepers have a vested interest in understanding you that even your teachers may not share, and it’s great practice as well as a good confidence builder when a random person can pick up on what you’re saying! It also helps to remove you from the sterile ‘learning’ environment and get a better idea of how people actually speak (turns out, not everyone follows classroom dialogue scripts, unfortunately!).
Overall, this is a wonderful experience thus far. My language skills are improving quickly and the teachers are dynamic and engaging. Beyond that, Taiwan is a beautiful country with a rich history and delicious food (food being the top reason anyone I’ve ever spoken to who has been to Taiwan says to visit), though it could stand to have a cold front or two move through. 再見!