07 September 2010

In which I remember why I have come to Egypt

As much fun as I've had wandering about Cairo and napping in air-conditioned rooms, the reason I'm here is to, well, study abroad.  In light of that, I am taking five classes at the American University in Cairo, on various topics only vaguely related to my major of Linguistics.  Luckily I have an understanding adviser and a flexible course schedule for the rest of my tenure at Bryn Mawr, so I was free to choose whatever courses I wanted for this semester, within reason, that is.

The expected classes would be some Arabic and some Linguistics, and I'm happy to report that both of those make appearances.  I think the easiest thing to do is give a basic rundown of each course (I've had one meeting of each one, with the exception of Arabic, which meets four days each week, and thus has met twice).  And so, without further ado, I give you, as they say, the dirt:

Society and State in the Middle East, 1906-Present is a history course looking to be discussion-based in a class of thirty students.  The teacher is hugely enthusiastic, and seems interested in pushing us.  We will have several articles to prepare for each session, and throughout the semester we will be working on the culminating project - an annotated bibliography of the sources we explore.  There will be some other assignments, but no major essays, so the preparation and discussion in this class will be the brunt of the work.  The professor is a recent (2007) graduate of an NYU doctoral program, where she specialized in Palestine, so we'll get to concentrate on that region - particularly timely, given the peace talks slated for the end of next week.  I'm excited about the other topics we're discussing as well, and though the majority of students are American, there are enough local/international students to bring other thoughts to the table.

I was expecting Arabic in the News Media to be a linguistic analysis of journalistic jargon, even though it is listed in the Arabic Language department.  As it turns out, I think we'll mostly be reading articles and listening to broadcasts and discussing out understanding of them, in Arabic.  This is great, because I am excited to see Arabic in a productive, real form, instead of in Al-Kitaab, everyone's favorite language instruction manual.  The class is small, and has only one native speaker (though formal Arabic is not his first language), so we should get a lot of practice and individual attention.  I find slight amusement in that the professor has previously taught at the Middlebury Summer School (though not this past year) and another girl who I met this summer (from Norway, studying at St. Andrews in Scotland) and I are both in the class.

Intermediate Arabic 202 is exactly what it sounds like, and thus far, about as interesting.  I don't know exactly how the course will be structured, though we seem to do a lot of worksheets in class.  The lack of knowledge likely stems from the fact that the teacher was late (45 minutes late) to our first class.  This is because we are on a special schedule for Ramadan, so all the classes are moved up incrementally, and then pushed back, after a certain time, so as not to conflict with iftar, the meal which breaks the daily muslim fast.  Anyway, the professor has been flustered about that, and I think after we come back from break this weekend, she'll have found her footing, and we'll get going.

The Linguistics class that was my justification for studying here, Principles and Practices of Teaching English is the only class where I am the lone American, and the lone non-degree student.  The course has a reputation of being easy, and it's a simple way for students to fill elective requirements, so I think that's why most of the other students are there.  The other component to the class is community based teaching, so I will teach staff (janitors, security guards, library workers) for at least eight hours in the coming semester.  It looks like the class will be more about the theories of language acquisition from an educational, rather than linguistic perspective, but hopefully I'll have plenty of opportunities to find inspiration for my thesis.

My last class was going to be several things, some of which I didn't have the proper pre-requisites for, some of which didn't fit, and some of which were canceled, but I have settled on a masters-level class called A Critical Introduction to Middle Eastern Studies, and it's required for all entry-level MA students in the Middle Eastern Studies department.  This is nice, because it means that almost all of the MA students are as new to AUC as I am, and we're starting with very little assumed previous knowledge.  It will be a reading/writing intensive course, with a major research paper at the end, but will complement my history class well, and give me another set of perspectives on world events I've only followed with recreational intentions.  Academia always lends a new view, and the small class should be a comfortable place to challenge what I think I know, which, really, is very little.

Overall, I think the semester is going to be very engaging, and somewhat challenging, and certainly different from anything I could find at Bryn Mawr.  I'm grateful that my Middlebury experience this summer allowed me to take two Arabic language classes, and we'll see how much of my historical writing skills I've retained from the likes of Ms. Lindau and Mr. Kennington's high school lessons.

Just a quick rundown of the logistics, two classes meet Sundays and Wednesdays, one meets Mondays and Thursdays, the graduate class meets only on Mondays (for two and a half hours), and Arabic meets Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday.  The weekends are Friday and Saturday, and Tuesdays are usually used for field trips, etc. which I don't have.  Therefore, Tuesdays will be my reading days, I think.

I apologize for the amount of text without pictures, but I didn't record all of my classrooms, and besides, as it turns out, classrooms look pretty much the same in every expensive institution of higher education built in the last few years.


  1. Sounds wonderful and fascinating. I am envious.

  2. Understanding adviser. Never was a truer word spoken.

  3. Sarah! So glad you're doing well. Did the art/architecture class fall through? Will you still get to see the city?

  4. Sarah!
    This sounds awesome and overwhelming. Are you still breathing?
    love, gee