Lara-Nour is from Evanston, IL and an alumna of the Arabic 2020 Virtual Summer Intensive program.
I could almost smell the mint tea through the screen. Steam billowed from the glass cup my teacher Soukayna was holding as she explained how to prepare the perfect Moroccan tea for Eid Al-Adha. Although I was relegated to a little box at the top of a video conference across the world from what would have been my host country, NSLI-Y VSI did everything in its power to make me feel like I was there.
I cooked Tagine in my Evanston kitchen and walked the streets of Marrakech from my living room couch. I received all the support necessary to produce my capstone project about Women in the Arab Spring and had contacts in Morocco to chat with whenever I felt like talking. From buying fruit in one of Rabat’s bustling markets to a virtual day trip to an Amazigh mountain town of Zawiya Ahansal, I looked forward to whatever new cultural monuments or customs I would be exposed to every single day of the program.
I was expecting NSLI-Y VSI to place emphasis on the cultural aspects of our host countries, but I had no idea how they were planning on tackling language instruction virtually. I was not new to Arabic, having grown up around the Egyptian dialect, but Modern Standard was a foreign and intimidating type of Arabic for me. To my relief, I wasn’t alone. All the students in my class had had exposure to Arabic; some had experience exclusively with Levantine dialect, others had studied MSA only from textbooks. We were all new to the language in some capacity. Our teacher Soukayna was full of joy and patience and tailored the curriculum to allow us to work on areas that challenged us. We learned through PowerPoint presentations and the small size of my class facilitated advanced conversation in the target language. It wasn’t quite immersion, but it was as close as we could have gotten. Despite the geographic barriers, my classmates and I formed relationships with one another. Together, on a group chat, we decoded Arabic grammatical structures, discussed philosophy, and talked about how we wish we could have met in person.
My favorite part of NSLI-Y VSI was forming these connections with my classmates and host country, a bond that transcended proximity. I was moved by NSLI-Y’s dedication to continuing the program despite the unprecedented events and upholding the quality of the instruction. All I can say is Shukran and Mashallah.