Arabic studies looks to broaden opportunities

Photo of students on red rocks on a trip to Jordan.
Courtesy of Lewis & Clark

Rumors have been circulating around Lewis & Clark’s undergraduate campus that the Arabic language program ends this semester. However, interviews with students and staff have proven this to be false. 

Ava Lockwood ’26, a student in Arabic 102, spoke of an interaction between herself and another student showing how widespread this concern had been. 

“The other day, I was just walking back to my dorm talking to my roommate about Arabic class, and this guy came up from behind me. And he was like, ‘Oh, you also care about the Arabic program? … Can I get your number so you can sign this petition so the Arabic program doesn’t close?’” Lockwood said.

None of the faculty associated with the program were aware of the origin of the rumor. In fact, the Arabic program is looking to expand. 

Next year, a new study abroad program in Jordan that ties into the Arabic language classes as well as the Middle Eastern and North African Studies (MENA) minor will begin its first study abroad program. Associate Professor of Anthropology Oren Kosansky is the director of MENA Studies and one of the masterminds behind creating and expanding the Arabic program at LC. 

“We started a relationship with a language program in Jordan. So students can now do a semester abroad in Jordan. Not a faculty-lead program, but it is another program for those who want to focus on a higher level of Modern Standard Arabic,” Kosansky said.

There is also a new program available for graduated students: An alumni trip to Morocco builds on the Middle East-focused abroad offerings at LC. 

“Lewis & Clark, a few years ago, started running alumni trips. And to a variety of places around the world you can explore,” Kosansky said. “We have done two trips to Morocco. They are two-week educational tour programs. One of the really great things about it is we visit the schools where our students study and alumni take a class from the teachers that teach our undergraduate students and those pieces of the alumni trip or highlights. It’s just astounding, everyone’s so happy. And so there is that other piece of building overseas programming, not through the undergraduate semester abroad, but also through this alumni trip.”

Kosansky spoke about the origin of the MENA Studies minor and Arabic language classes, LC’s most recent language offering.

“It was a series of processes. It began through discussions with several faculty at Lewis & Clark, who recognized we had resources on campus and student interest in developing Arabic and Middle East Studies more generally. This was over a decade ago now. Then there were a bunch of convergent efforts to build Arabic and Middle East Studies,” Kosansky said. 

He also detailed how Arabic language classes started at LC in connection with the study abroad program to Morocco.

“The first anchoring one was the introduction of the Morocco program in 2011, and there was going to be a language component for it,” Kosansky said.

For some faculty-led study abroad programs, if the language of the country is not already taught at LC, the college will provide a semester-long preparatory course for students. 

“We decided we wanted all students to have a semester of Arabic before going to Morocco, so they can have a foundation for continuing their language studies. We didn’t have Arabic on campus, so we hired an Arabic instructor to teach that one course, and we did that for several years,” he said. 

Kosansky laid out how the Morocco study abroad program and accompanying Arabic language class played a role in developing MENA Studies and expanding the Arabic classes at LC.

“We also started moving towards developing our Middle Eastern and North African Studies program, and as we built that program, we decided that the Arabic language would be a central part of it. And we ended up deciding that we would have the three semester language requirement, or completion of the third semester, which mapped also onto the Lewis and Clark language requirement,” he said. 

The Arabic language program at LC officially began in 2015, offering classes up to the 201 level. MENA Studies became a minor in 2017. LC is one of a few small liberal arts colleges to offer a MENA Studies program. 

Arabic is one of the smaller programs at LC, yet the participants are enthusiastic. This semester’s Arabic 102 class has seven students. Lockwood spoke of her experience. 

“I think people get along really well inside the confines of that classroom. We had two different sections last semester that were combined now in Arabic 102. So we’ve been getting to know people. But even in our group chat, there’s some people who’ve already been saying that there are movies coming up that are in Arabic, that we should all go see together. And I think that we’re starting to build a little bit of community through wanting to speak Arabic together and wanting to learn about cultures that speak Arabic,” Lockwood said. 

Adjunct Instructor of Arabic Samar Hamadmad expanded on the content of the classes. 

“We do a lot of culture talk, we watched some videos about some Arabic countries. I even got the students some Arabic sweets, Arabic coffee and we have some great chats. Actually, we also did one session about Arabic language history. It was very interesting. It generated so many good questions and conversations,” Hamamad said. “I always take any chance at any opportunity to tell the students about something happening here … The students are really interested in Arabic as a language and as a culture itself.” 

Students have expressed interest in Arabic language classes past the 201 level. Hamamad provided some insight on this.

“There is a big demand from the students for the college to offer Arabic 202. So many students in 201 asked me for that. And I asked the head of the MENA department (Kosansky), and he told me they are pushing for that, as we will have a good number of students. And so many students want to really have Arabic as a minor. So this is something that we can take to the World Languages Department, and we can maybe discuss it in the future,” Hamamad said. 

Hamamad is from Jordan, where the most recent Arabic-focused study abroad program is located. She shared her perspective on the benefits of the new program.

“Of course, Morocco is beautiful, but because I know Jordan, I told him you have to go because you will learn a huge amount of Arabic and culture because culture is everywhere. And there is a big, big history. You will feel history everywhere in Jordan. I wrote a letter of recommendation for (a student) and they are so excited. I hope more students will join because they will really grow their language skills when they come back. They will appreciate it when they come back because oh, now we know more,” Hamamad said.

Looking ahead, Kosansky offered information about the upcoming 10th annual Middle East and North African Studies Symposium.

“This year we’ll have two keynote speakers. One from the law school, one from Oregon State University. We’re going to have an Iranian drum music workshop, there’s going to be workshops in Arabic calligraphy, and an opportunity to get henna. And so it (has) a bunch of interesting events, student research panels as well.”

The Symposium is scheduled for Feb. 27-29, with the theme of Language and Politics. 

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