Exactly one year ago today, I was on a plane returning to the United States from my post in Irbid, Jordan where I had spent almost the last two years working at Yarmouk University. Unfortunately, I had to be quickly evacuated once knowledge of the pandemic had surfaced globally. I was so disheartened. My plan had been to stay in Jordan for some time. I didn’t want to leave the community into which I had been so warmly welcomed, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to a place that felt like home. Coming back to the States presented a lot of unknowns to me. How could I stay connected to the Arab community to which I had grown so attached? More importantly, how could I continue using the Arabic language?
Thankfully, I found Al-Bustan. I had been searching for adult Arabic classes in Philadelphia, and it seemed like most of them ran through either community colleges or the universities. This wasn’t what I had hoped to find. I wanted a class that was small, interactive, and not for course credit. My hopes were to continue with Arabic solely for the pleasure of learning another language and understanding the deep roots of another culture. As Charlemagne said, “To learn another language is to have a second soul.” I’ve taught English for many years, and have certainly seen that come to pass; language exchange is a beautiful thing.
In my online course with Noora, I’ve really appreciated that we get into cultural discussions, usually based around the readings and vocabulary. For example, we may discuss something from the Levant in one class and the next week discuss a topic centered on one of the GCC countries. This is particularly interesting and relatable to me, as I spent time living in Oman and have traveled through some of the other Gulf countries. There is a lot of historical context built into the lessons which I appreciate.
I do think something is lost from the online learning experience, although it’s still been very beneficial for me to have Arabic input in some capacity. In my opinion, remote learning does not allow for a natural learning environment, especially when it comes to learning a language. I find it hard to fully engage online and to interact in authentic ways, as there can be a lot expressed through body language and non-verbal cues; this is lost in the virtual world.
Now that we are coming into spring and the virus is slowly starting to dissipate, I am hopeful for a better year of community and in-person exchanges. I look forward to engaging more with the events at Al-Bustan and to see what types of opportunities will be offered. This past year, I’ve enjoyed catching some of the film screenings, virtual concerts, and cooking demos. I wanted to give a shout out for the HIYA Live Sessions that were live streamed this last weekend. There were some phenomenal female DJs represented for Women’s History Month.
As Al-Bustan means greenery or garden, I leave you with this picture of the green rolling hills of Irbid, a place that has a special connection to my heart.