Marhaba from Jordan

Arabic Students spend summer immersed in culture & language of Middle East with QFI grant


Mousa al Jadaa

Eight students from the Arabic program visited iconic Jordanian landmarks like Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The desert sun beat down

on the students as they

walked down the dusty

trail. Donkeys and

horses trotted by, and Bedouin

shopkeepers shouted prices in

Arabic. The path narrowed and

the afternoon light painted the

sandstone walls golden orange. The

path opened up around the bend

and revealed the magnificent facade

that is famed around the world, the

imposing Treasury of Petra, carved

into stone thousands of years ago.

The Arabic program received

$28,000 from Qatar Foundation

International to go on an allexpenses-

paid, eight-day trip to

Jordan over the summer to learn

about water conservation, practice

Arabic and explore the culture.

“We did a different thing

every day; we went to Petra and we

went to Wadi Rum,” senior Zayna

Chouman said. “We walked around

the capital Amman a lot at night.

We stayed in the desert for two


Seven students and former

Arabic teacher, Priscilla Cunha,

went on the trip at the beginning

of June last summer. One student,

senior Genevieve Clemons, helped

with the grant-writing process and

spent months planning for the trip.

“It was very difficult to make

such a thing happen when all of

us had no experience in the grant

writing process or the bureaucratic

process of getting permission from

the school,” Clemons said.

The goals of the trip were to

improve students’ conversational

Arabic by talking to locals, as

well as to learn about water

conservation throughout the

country of Jordan.

“The trip gave me a first-hand

experience of what it’s like to be

in a Middle Eastern country, and

it gave me a perspective into the

environment, people, and society,”

Clemons said. “It really increased

my respect for the culture, because

I found lots of very open and kind

people that were willing to invite

me into their shop or their home.”

Students participated in

activities such as biking, swimming

in the Dead Sea, eating with locals

and scrambling up sandstone

boulders in the desert of Wadi

Rum, which is well-known for being

the film location of movies such as

The Martian and Aladdin.

“My favorite part was Wadi

Rum, and staying in the Bedouin

camps,” Chouman said. “I

thought that was a more authentic

experience than just walking

around downtown and shopping

and doing touristy things. It was

more about the experience instead

of just being there.”

Most of the students who had

never been to the Middle East

before experienced a degree of

culture shock, even Chouman, who

has been to the Middle East before,

was also surprised by different

aspects of Jordan.

“I expected it to be more

progressive than it is, just because

I’m used to Lebanon,” Chouman

said. “The biggest thing that I’ve

learned is that if you’re a girl, you

can’t walk in the street alone; that

was kind of shocking to me. But it’s

complicated, because I also know

that a lot of places in the Middle

East are way worse with that, so it’s

kind of progressive for the area.”

Students learn about different

countries and cultures in their

classes, but traveling allows

students to see what they have

learned in real life. Director of

academies Nicole Griffith believes

that travel is a mind-opening and

life-changing experience.

“When you get out there and

see things with your own eyes and

experience culture—smell the food

and taste the food and see what’s

happening on the streets—it’s

so enriching,” Griffith said. “It

brings all of your learning together

and helps you see a perspective

that we can never show you in a


This was the first trip where

students in the Arabic program had

the ability to travel abroad together,

and Chouman hopes something

similar will be offered this year.

“I think it’s a really cool

experience that we got to travel at

all because most language classes

don’t get to do that,” Chouman

said. “I feel like being in an Arabic

speaking country helps me learn a

lot more than in a classroom, and it

was just a privilege to experience it

in high school.”

Clemons encourages high

school students to learn about

different cultures and take

opportunities to travel if they are


“Pursue that interest and

to find out as much as you

can, because it’ll really make a

difference in the way you look

at the world,” Clemons said. “I

think it’s really important as our

world becomes more globalized to

preserve the diversity and learn to

appreciate and respect it, rather

than fear it.”