The Gist of Jewish Studies

Shalom! Are you curious about the way our university frames Jewish Studies? Here’s a list of the top 10 things to know about this discipline across campus at the University of Illinois.

  1. The Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s course listings are inherently diverse.
A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society's website’s homepage.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s website’s homepage.

There are courses with content addressing the Jewish diaspora from several disciplines on campus including English, German, Hebrew, history, religious studies, social work, and Yiddish. Given all types of immigration due to conflict, displacement, immigration, voluntary and involuntary exiles, and the establishment of Israel, Jewish populations are found all over the world. These international Jewish communities and their histories of cross-cultural contact explain why Jewish Studies are rich and broad and why searching the Enterprise course catalog under all of the following headings is a good idea: ENG, GER, HEBR, HIST, RLST, SOCW, and YDSH. (Soon you will be able to search exclusively under “JS” for “Jewish Studies.”)

  1. Hebrew and Yiddish, too!

The below video features Dr. Sara Feldman describing her experience with developing expertise in Jewish Studies.

We are a privileged lot here at the U of I: we have the opportunity to learn two languages spoken within Jewish communities. Dr. Sara Feldman teaches both Hebrew and Yiddish on campus. She points out that while Hebrew has its origins in the Near East, Yiddish was born in Europe to groups that came to be known as Ashkenazi (see #10). The Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, available to undergraduate and graduate students, encourages the study of less commonly taught languages and has the potential to support the study of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

  1. Cinema, anyone?
An image of the cover art used to promote the film Yossi & Jagger, a cinematic production that largely addresses LGBTQ issues. Photo Credit: José Vicente Salamero

Cover art from the film Yossi & Jagger, which largely addresses LGBTQ issues. Photo Credit: José Vicente Salamero

As with most any other cultural group, a rich body of cinema has been produced that speaks to the unique experiences and struggles known to the Jewish community. For example, the Jewish Studies Program recently screened A Borrowed Identity at the Art Theater, which was followed by a question and answer session for the broader Urbana-Champaign community. This semester, Dr. Feldman and Israeli visiting scholar Dr. Vered Weiss have initiated a film series that introduces selected works, each of which will be followed by a discussion.

  1. The Illini Hillel Center
Exterior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The exterior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The interior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The interior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

Just as we have ethnic cultural houses on campus on Nevada Street, a cultural center based around Jewish identity and culture is found not far away, on John Street. It has its own library, free coffee, a terrace, and weekly cultural events including Shabbat (see #10) services and meals open to anyone in the U of I community.

  1. The Israel-Palestine Conflict
A map outlining occupied territories of Israel-Palestine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A map of Israel-Palestine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tensions between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians have been volatile for at least six decades now. Some think that the inherent difficulties— territorial, religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, and more—are the most complex and the least resolvable of our time. To help to navigate these issues, the library has created a LibGuide on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. This resource offers answers to frequently asked questions and access to our related holdings. While on that topic, know that this A-Z Lib Guide database allows you to choose keywords to yield additional guides to help orient you in your research.

  1. Sayed Kashua

Below: Sayed Kashua’s series Arab Labor is reviewed by commentators on the television channel KCET.

Our campus community includes a successful Israeli-Palestinian screenwriter and author by the name of Sayed Kashua. His work, written in Hebrew, addresses the difficulties experienced by inhabitants of Israel-Palestine who pursue an ethos of tolerance but are nonetheless impacted by the violence, debates, and conflicts that have become synonymous with the region. Explore the library’s holdings credited to this artist including novels like Dancing Arabs and the television series, Arab Labor. Note: When looking for works by this author in our catalog, use this transliteration of his last name: “Qashu.” Just last week Kashua gave a reading of his new book, Native, at the Urbana Free Library.

  1. A major, a minor, or a graduate certificate

As with many of the cultural studies programs on our campus, the Program in Jewish Culture and Society offers varying levels of involvement. Both undergraduate and graduate students can participate in the courses offered and different credentialing options are available, depending on status. Director Brett Kaplan reports that the program is actively growing the minor and is reaching out to classes, sororities and fraternities, and Hillel in order to expand its reach.

  1. Listserv & Social Media
An image of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s Director Dr. Brett Kaplan

An image of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s Director Dr. Brett Kaplan

By e-mailing the Program in Jewish Culture and Society’s Director Brett Kaplan (bakaplan@illinois.edu), you, too, can sign up for the program’s listserv and stay abreast of various community and campus events like film screenings, community talks, and local conferences that deal with themes of the Jewish diaspora, identity, and culture. The program also has a Facebook page.

  1. Our Library Specialist
An image of Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth, a librarian and expert in religious studies on the University of Illinois campus.

An image of Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth, a librarian and expert in religious studies on the University of Illinois campus.

If you are researching geography, history, politics, religion, sociology, or other topics related to Jewish society, Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth (cswroth@illinois.edu) of the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library has rigorously studied questions of Jewish identity and is available to help you shape and build your research. Also, if you prefer to do some independent exploring, check out these resources:

Holocaust in Context

Index to Jewish Periodicals

Jewish Studies

  1. A Beginner’s Vocabulary
An image of a Jewish couple's marriage ceremony. Photo Credit: Robert Faerman

An image of a Jewish couple’s marriage ceremony. Photo Credit: Robert Faerman

Here are some of the terms that novices and experts will encounter at any stage of study in this field:

  • aliyah: (n.) one of many successive waves of immigration to Israel
  • Ashkenazi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people of European descent, excluding regions like Spain, Portugal, and Greece
  • Israel-Palestine: (n.) a hotly contested land in the Near East that regularly struggles with issues of sovereignty
  • Mizrahi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people of Middle Eastern descent
  • Sephardi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people who historically resided in the Iberian Peninsula, especially up until the 15th century, including those who were later expelled from the region
  • Shabbat: (n.) Known as “(the) Sabbath” in English, this is a holy day of rest that comes at the end of the week for Jews.
  • Orthodox, Haredi: (n. and adj.) These terms refer to conservative, observant Jews who attempt to respect traditional precepts of religiosity.
  • Yiddish: (n.) A language used within many Jewish communities that is of Germanic origin

Bonus: Author’s Pick

The University of Illinois' Library's Catalog record for Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

The University of Illinois’ Library’s Catalog record for Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Also, to begin framing your understanding of Jewish Studies, consider checking out Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which grapples with issues of identity and heritage and comes in graphic-novel form.

For more posts like these, be sure to like the International & Area Studies Library’s Facebook page.

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Buying Trips from Urbana to Bangladesh

Ever wonder how the shelves and stacks get populated with just the materials you need for your research? Here’s a look into a buying trip recently made by our very own South Asian Studies Librarian, Mara Thacker. She was one of the fist to participate in the University Library’s pilot program designed to allow librarians to travel overseas, seek relationships with vendors, and purchase materials to develop our collections here in Urbana-Champaign. This Q & A session reveals how we curate our library materials to better serve you. A special thanks goes out to the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies whose dedication to our library and regular support also made this project possible.

What is a buying trip?

Buying trips are exactly what they sound like—a trip, often overseas, for the purpose of purchasing books, films, and other materials for the library. Not all buying trips result in an immediate purchase but instead lay groundwork for a future acquisition or for a partnership to digitize materials so our community can access them.

Are all library workers able to go on buying trees?

Any library worker whose job responsibilities include collection development (in plainer language—buying books and other library resources) is eligible to go on a trip. These trips usually are targeting unique international materials which does exclude people who only buy materials from the U.S. At this point, mostly International and Area Studies Library faculty have taken advantage of the Library’s pilot program to fund buying trips, but the task force that is managing the pilot funding program is actively inviting other subject specialists with an interest in purchasing international materials to apply.

Where did this trip take you? How do you select what sites you want to visit?

In my most recent buying trip, I went to Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), and Bengaluru in India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. I selected these sites based on a few factors. Delhi and Kolkata both had large book fairs that I planned to attend, but in addition to that, Delhi had two major vendors that I wanted to meet with, and Kolkata is the largest center for Bengali language publishing. Since Bengali language materials were one of collecting priorities, I also chose to go to Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was important to me to visit a South Asian country other than India because my subject specialization covers seven countries in total and I have been on five trips to India but not a single trip to one of the others. I later found out that I was the first U.S.-based librarian to visit Bangladesh for a buying trip in a long time so I’m really glad I chose to go there. Finally, I chose to visit Bengaluru because I had been in contact with a comic collector there who I wanted to meet with.

The crowd at the very popular Ekushey Boi Mela book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This photo gives you an idea of the crowd at the very popular Ekushey Boi Mela book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Are all buying trips international?

For the purposes of the pilot funding program, yes.

Can’t you just buy materials online?

While it’s true that many materials are available online, not everything is easy to find online. Some international vendors are better than others in terms of having complete, easy-to-search websites. To illustrate my point, take the case of the comic collector in Bengaluru. I had been chatting with him over email off and on for more than a year but he was either unable or unwilling to give me a complete picture of all of his materials and how much he would charge for them. When I met with him, it turned out he had a lot more than I had been led to believe—much more than I could ever hope to buy in one trip! In the course of our conversation, he revealed that he had been reluctant to sell to me before because he didn’t know how credible our institution was or whether or not we would take proper care of the comics. Comics are his passion and he did not want the materials damaged, resold or thrown into some dusty corner. I explained to him my vision for the University of Illinois to have the most comprehensive comic collection in North America including rare titles that would be preserved in our Rare Books & Manuscripts Library. In the end, not only did I buy a pile of out-of-print Indrajal comics from him, he has now agreed to be a vendor and to sell to us directly. That said, I imagine I will want to visit him again in the future because he has piles and piles of comics, many of which are not cataloged. I’d like a few more days to sort through them and find some gems.

Book seller at Howrah Junction train station in Kolkata

Bookseller at Howrah Junction train station in Kolkata. These small stalls at transportation hubs in India are some of the only places where you can find vernacular language pulp fiction novels.

What’s your budget for buying library materials? Do you go with a list in mind? Are there items that are “high priority” (censored items, rare items, limited publications, etc.)?

These trips are generally meant to target materials that are difficult to acquire through normal collection channels, though the difficulty could range from “Oh, I didn’t know this existed” to “Only one copy exists in the entire world”. The challenge is that if materials are really rare and do not already have a record in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), they are going to require original cataloging and if they are fragile, they will require special processing. This can be expensive and time consuming and absolutely requires advance planning with technical services and cataloging.

Prior to leaving on the trip, I emailed the UIUC faculty working in and on South Asian Studies to solicit both specific requests as well as general topical requests. I compiled these along with my own ideas into a list of collecting priorities and I printed out copies to take during the trip. I also emailed the list in advance to a few of the larger vendors who I had prescheduled meetings with. One special area I was targeting was comics for the South Asian comic collection. The comic collection really serves to distinguish our South Asian collection from other such collections and is an important contribution to the national collection. Right now, vendor coverage of South Asian comics is somewhat spotty so it takes a bit more work to build up these resources.

World Comics India booth at the book fair in New Delhi

Mara Thacker at the World Comics India booth at the book fair in New Delhi. The orange bag behind my chair is full of purchases to send back to the library!

Typically, the budget to purchase materials on a buying trip is the same as a subject specialist’s regular collections budget. However, on this last trip, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) had written into a grant proposal some funding to acquire language learning materials for South Asian languages including Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Bengali. Altogether I budgeted around $6000 for materials purchases and shipping, half of which was from the CSAMES grant and the other half of which came from my regular collections budget.

How do you get the items safely back to the States?

I usually allocate roughly 30% of my budget for shipping the items back. International shipping can be complicated, so, on my last buying trip, I had one major vendor, D.K. Agencies, as well as the Library of Congress offices in Dhaka and Delhi office help. I carried back a few items in my luggage, but for the most part I try to avoid that so I can travel light as I’m moving between several cities in a short amount of time.

Are there any obstacles or difficulties the layperson might not know about in regard to buying trips?

Of course there are predictable challenges like paying for things in an economy where credit cards aren’t always accepted, spotty wifi connections, and the fear of a major digestive incident. Then there are less predictable things like political demonstrations, transportation strikes, and run-ins with street animals. True story: On my first ever buying trip, I got bitten by a street dog and had to get a rabies treatment in an Indian hospital!

One challenge that may be surprising to our readers is that finding a balance between work and pleasure while on these trips is a challenge. At home, we usually work 40 hours a week and have time off on the weekends, but when on a buying trip, one is constantly aware that the university is paying a good deal of expenses to support the trip and there is a self-imposed pressure to always be on duty.

Fortunately, being in India is a treat and the locale made the work activities extra fun. Attending a literature festival or book fair is probably something I would choose to do in my spare time anyway because I’m a bibliophile. But, I did do a few personal things for myself while there. For example, in Bengaluru, my friend Kunal took me on a vintage motorcycle ride to see the largest air show in Asia and I spent a few hours one evening trying to track down a restaurant called Gulati’s that I was told had some of the best butter chicken in India! Outside of those adventures, I worked over 40 hours a week because after a full day of visiting shops, publishers, and vendors, I would continue checking catalogs, respond to emails, take documentation of the day’s activities and purchases, and plan the next day’s schedule.

Vintrage Royal Enfield motorcycle.

Headed out to the air show with Kunal on a vintage Royal Enfield motorcycle!

Where do you want to go next?

I was really set on returning to Bangladesh but as the security situation there grows steadily worse, including three murders of secular bloggers in less than a year, I’m not sure if it will be possible in the immediate future. I’d like to visit Sri Lanka because I’ve never been and I’d like to get some Sri Lankan comics for the collection and make contacts there. I’d also like to go to South India which is one of my favorite places on earth and also happens to have some major popular culture production . Including these places would make for a compelling buying trip application because they would expand my network into other South Asian countries, and therefore expand my reach in the services I can provide to students looking to do research in South Asia. The comic collection is also an important collection both in terms of contributing to the national collection and also just in terms of distinguishing our local collection, so targeting places to get unique acquisitions for that collection is helpful.

How can U of I community members find out more about library workers’ buying trips?

Though buying trips are just a small fraction of the international work done by UIUC librarians, they are included in this map we have been developing that shows where all our librarians have traveled for work. My recent buying trip to South Asia is included as well as my colleagues’ buying trips to Togo, China, and Cuba. The public can also find out more about these trips by following the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library’s Facebook page and Glocal Notes blog. There will also be a library exhibit next fall about these trips to be announced on our social media accounts. If you want to read more about my last trip, see the forthcoming column in the journal International Information & Library Review. We’ll be sure to share link once it is live.

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The Honduras Water Project

The University of Illinois provides its students with many opportunities to learn about different countries and cultures, engage in international work and also learn through service-learning. One exciting opportunity for students at UIUC is a course that has been offered for the past 3 years. Supported by the College of Engineering, the Honduras Water Project gives students an opportunity to apply classroom learning to real-life work.

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course -- Illinois-Span-Advising Website

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course — Illinois-Span-Advising Website

This course spans two semesters and includes the opportunity to travel to the Central American nation of Honduras. Working with a local NGO in country, students learn how to design a gravity-flow water distribution system while also learning how to ensure sustainability of the project. During the trip, students visit the specific community where the designed system will be implemented. They get to know the community as well as collect information to better meet the needs of its residents.

Ann-Perry Witmer, the course instructor, believes the Honduras Water Project is unique because of

The interdisciplinary nature of it. It’s a fabulous opportunity for engineering students to broaden their understanding while collaborating with other students. Everyone is able to learn from each other while expanding their own understanding of the world.”

Honduras is a Spanish-speaking country located in the north-central part of Central America. It has a population of over 8 million people and the capital city is Tegucigalpa, located in the south-central region of the country.

 "Map of Central America" by Cacahuate, amendments by Joelf - Own work based on the blank world map. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_Central_America.png#/media/File:Map_of_Central_America.png

“Map of Central America” by Cacahuate, amendments by Joelf – Own work based on the blank world map. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Honduras Water Project course focuses on working with rural communities in Honduras, along with the help and collaboration of a local Honduran non-governmental organization, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC). ADEC is based out of Marcala, Honduras, but works in many rural areas, thus fostering its ability to provide support to the Honduras Water Project courses throughout the years. This NGO assists UIUC students throughout the entirety of the course because of its experience in water, sanitation, health, and hygiene projects in rural areas of Honduras.

Picture of the ADEC sign in Marcala, Honduras - from a previous trip, posted on http://hwpillinois.weebly.com/

Picture of the ADEC sign in Marcala, Honduras – from a previous trip, posted on the course’s website

As mentioned above, the course is led by Ann-Perry Witmer, a practicing Civil Engineer and Teaching Associate with the College of Engineering at UIUC. Ann has worked on a number of international service projects and emphasizes the importance of understanding sociopolitical and cultural influences while working on contextual engineering designs of a project as well.

When asked what she would like the UIUC community to know about the course, Ann responded, “These opportunities exist to step outside your own comfort zone and learn from others while sharing your own knowledge.” Also, that because of this class “we’re redefining how international service is done, to make it more sustainable and more recipient-focused.” Furthermore, “At the root of courses like this is the focus of building respect for the developing world  – and appreciation for how large it is – and then how much we can learn from them.”

Group of UIUC students from a previous trip -- photo by Ann-Perry Witmer

Group of UIUC students from a previous trip — photo by Ann-Perry Witmer

This course is not reserved only for engineering students. Rather, it incorporates students from all departments and disciplines who then come together to work through every step in the process of understanding the problem, creating a contextual design, and working hand-in-hand with the community.

I am enrolled in the course and have had the great opportunity to work with students from all levels and all departments throughout the semester. Currently I am a second year graduate student in African Studies at UIUC. I have spent time working with an NGO in East Africa on a water project, installing shallow wells for clean drinking water in rural communities. With this experience, my passion for water was born. I realized how extremely important water is; that water is life. While pursuing my degree in African Studies here at UIUC, I have taken courses in health, urban planning, and engineering that have all complemented one another and helped to provide me with a more holistic view of international service projects. I am excited to have found a class that takes an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to an international service project and I’m glad that I can share my experience working in East Africa with everyone working on the project in Honduras.

This course is divided into two different semesters. The fall semester of the class is focused around preliminary design work and also how to incorporate a holistic view of the project, including emphasis on the technical, social, and political components of the project. The spring semester will be focused more on the finalization of the design as well as grant-writing to fund the project. We are currently continuing preparations for our trip to Cerro Verde, the community that we will be working on the design with.

A group of students and alumni mentors (students from previous years) will be traveling to Cerro Verde, Honduras from January 7-17, 2016. While there we will be doing a number of things, including household surveys, water-quality testing, health and hygiene education, and also on-site collaboration with ADEC, the community members, and the local water committee.

For the final project of this semester, the Honduras Water Project class will be giving a conceptual design presentation to discuss what we have accomplished in the course this fall, as well as what our plans are for the trip in January. This presentation is open to the public, in the hopes of raising awareness of the project, and will take place on Tuesday, December 15th at 7pm in Deere Pavilion. All students, faculty, and community members are welcome to attend. 

Flyer for the Honduras Water Project Conceptual Design Presentation, December 15, 2015

Flyer for the Honduras Water Project Conceptual Design Presentation, December 15, 2015

I will also be doing a follow-up post this spring, detailing what was accomplished during the January trip, as well as how the design, funding search, and future implementation plans are going.

This is the third project in three years for Honduras Water Project. For more specific information about the past projects, visit the Honduras Water Project website.

When asked about the future of the course, Ann-Perry Witmer responded, 

“This is just the start. We have a course this spring that is building on Honduras Water Project by researching the impact that engineering design has on communities. I would like to see it to continue to grow on an understanding that any discipline involved in international development can benefit. An interdisciplinary approach needs to be more widespread. And it will only make engineers stronger.”

To get access to more posts like these, follow our Facebook page and be sure to check back in January to learn about my experience in Central America! 

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Adventures in Arabic, Part II

Welcome back, Arabophiles! And thank you for joining us at Glocal Notes for the second edition of “Adventures in Arabic.” As promised, this week we will share “Ways To Cope with Difficulty” and “Miscellany.”

As always with this blog, one of our most pertinent goals is to make you more aware of the resources that we have in our library and on campus to help you with your needs. These resources come in many forms. Among them are the print, the digital, the human, the interdepartmental, and the ones that go beyond the borders of our university. Shall we take a tour?

WAYS TO COPE WITH DIFFICULTY

A screenshot of the homepage of the International and Area Studies Library's portal to materials and research strategies pertaining to the Middle East & North Africa. Found at http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/middleeasterncollection/index.html.

A screenshot of the homepage of the International and Area Studies Library’s portal to materials and research strategies pertaining to the Middle East & North Africa. Found at http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/middleeasterncollection/index.html.

Print & Digital Resources

As mentioned in Part I, in Arabic class here at UIUC we use a text book called Alif Baa by Kristen Brustad and her colleagues. Aside from occasional dalliances with Google Translate’s pronunciation function, I’ve found the text to be quite sufficient as a learning tool. What’s more, it is accompanied by a compact disc which holds the class’ listening exercises and videos that demonstrate how the script is written.

However, if a beginner were interested in complementary texts, one might consult the call number ranges or addresses that indicate where print reference materials are held in our library. Don’t know where those are? No problem. That’s why we have lib guides. Our University Library is a big proponent of lib guides, which are concentrated, digital resources designed around a theme and meant to help you find what you need when you need it. Here are four that pertain to learning about the Arab world and the Arabic language:

Human Resources

But there’s more!

Professor Laila Hussein is the Middle East and North African Studies Librarian at the University Library. Specifically, Professor Hussein works at this blog’s home unit, the International and Area Studies Library. She can help you find sources for your term papers, tell you about the Bibliography of Africa course and, as a native speaker of Arabic, discuss how Modern Standard Arabic differs from regional dialects. She recently published a piece about her broader work in the American Library Association’s International Leads.

Professor Kenneth Cuno is the campus’ local expert on most things Egyptian. He has spent decades studying Egyptian society and culture to come to a better understanding of how the country and its people link their ancient and pharaonic past to the present and its political uprisings. His courses this semester focus on modern Egyptian history and mutable concepts of family over time. His recent publications include Modernizing Marriage: Family, Ideology, and Law in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Egypt and Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire.

Dr. Eman Saadah is the director of the Arabic Language Program. In addition to coordinating the multiple sections of beginning Arabic courses, she is the official faculty chaperone for students traveling in the winter study abroad program to Jordan. She coordinates an annual 3-week trip for students interested in visiting the Middle East. Moreover, if you’re studying Arabic, you can write to her and ask about the weekly conversation tables held on Thursdays in La Casa on Nevada Street at 4:00 p.m. that discuss modern issues in Muslim-majority countries.

Angela Williams is the Associate Director of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES). She is a doctoral candidate in the Education, Policy, Organization and Leadership program. Aside from being a competent Arabic speaker, she is also studying Persian.

Interdepartmental Resources

A screenshot of the University of Illinois' Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies website's home page.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) website’s home page.

The Center for African Studies (CAS), the Center for Global Studies (CGS), and the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES), and the European Union Center (EUC) have affiliated  professors who offer a variety of courses pertaining to the Arabic-speaking world. Moreover, these three centers host a series of events and talks that shed light on multiple topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and development efforts in Sub-Saharan African countries. There are also regular Iranian tea times at these campus cultural houses. To sign up for the Center for African Studies’ weekly newsletter, delivered by e-mail, write to Terri Gitler (tgitler@illinois.edu); to be included on the Center for Global Studies listserv, complete this form; and for CSAMES’ email list, click this link and fill out the form.

The Summer Institute of Languages of the Muslim World (SILMW) is native to our campus and is currently run by Dr. Eman Saadah. She is from Jordan and teaches Arabic during the eight weeks of the summer term. In addition to intensive courses, the program offers cultural workshops and field trips to help introduce students to Islamic cultures. Also, if you recall the federally funded fellowship mentioned in Part I of this post, also known as the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, SILMW is FLAS-eligible and offers up to seven different languages for study, including Arabic.

Outside Academic Resources

Middlebury College offers intensive study every summer for eleven modern languages. Arabic is offered at its California campus site and is eligible for the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) federal award.

Middlebury College offers intensive study every summer for eleven modern languages. Arabic is offered at its California campus site and is eligible for the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) federal award.

Arabic at Stanford: If you’re feeling a bit shaky writing and pronouncing your letters, this nifty website can help you to perfect scribing and vocalizing the Arabic script.

Georgetown University: This page tells you what makes learning the Arabic language challenging for native speakers of English.

Middlebury College: If you’re looking for an immersive experience, but can’t quite make it abroad, you might consider Middlebury College’s Language Schools. At Middlebury, you can join a summer-long program in which you sign a Language Pledge and communicate almost exclusively in your target language for the duration of the summer term. In addition to courses, there are extracurricular activities that are all conducted in the target language, including theater, cooking, sports, poetry, and more. A total of eleven modern languages are taught through the Middlebury College Language Schools: nine are offered on the Vermont campus and two, including Arabic, are offered every summer in California. As with SILMW, these programs are also FLAS-eligible.

Around the Web

Thankfully, learning Arabic isn’t all about dictionaries, papers and tests. It is also about humor, travel, struggles, pronunciation, sharing, solidarity, culture, and community. When you’re not sounding out your alif tanwins, deciphering your waslas and choosing your proper kursis, you can check out these pages that will speak intimately to your challenges and successes:

 

MISCELLANY

 A female student wearing a hijab. Photo Credit: Tahir Ansari

A female student wearing a hijab. Photo Credit: Tahir Ansari

What’s required vs. what’s necessary

I’ve come to think of my relationship with Arabic much like any long-term one that I might have with another person; I’ve found that when I put in the time, energy, and attention for working on Arabic, peace, harmony and good tidings are my rewards. When I don’t, there’s discord, anxiety and friction between us. Knowing this, doing “just enough to get by” isn’t the best approach in creating a strong foundation for a lasting love. This frequently means requiring more of myself than what is recommended. Doubly more. As a friend of mine likes to say, “The struggle is real.”

This is my first time having an instructor who is a hijabi*.

As far as I can tell, what my instructor wears has had no bearing on the efficacy of her teaching. As a Westerner and a feminist, I’ve been exposed to schools of thought that suggest the garment is outrightly oppressive. However, writing off the cultural practice entirely without hearing from the people who respect it would be unjust. As the many think-pieces published on various Internet platforms state, a hijab does not equate to oppression just as a bikini does not equate to freedom. When we assign definitive meanings to garments, we limit the dialogues we can engage about them. Interestingly, recent news articles seem to suggest that the hijab is taking a strong foothold in the mainstream. See a Muslim policewoman’s uniform in Minnesota and a retail model’s attire for H&M. It would seem that fewer and fewer preconceptions about the covering are true.

There are heritage speakers in class.

In language pedagogy courses, new instructors are taught that there are “true beginners” and “false beginners.” True beginners have had zero to little meaningful contact with the target language being taught. False beginners are learners who may have taken the language years ago and have significant gaps in their history of learning. Or, a false beginner could be a heritage speaker who has spoken the target language for years at home but has insufficient experience in terms of reading and writing it. The heritage speakers, it seems, ask fewer questions and make fewer comments. This may be because the basic principles of the language come more easily and/or naturally to them based on their more personal experiences.

I still can’t write my name.

At the time I started writing this post, the statement written just above was true. It took me about four weeks to learn to write my name. This isn’t because my name is inherently difficult or that I’m painfully slow at picking up grammar cues. It is because the letters “k” and “n” come rather late in the abjad (alphabet) – “N” is the fourth to last. It may, then, take 20 class meetings before you can use the Arabic script to write your name, and even more than that if you’re a Henry, Harold, Heather, or Helen, as “H” is the last consonant of the alphabet. Here are some of the names I learned to write rather early: Rashid, Sara, and Tabatha.

This is not something you do for “fun.”

Over the course of my foreign language learning career, I have noticed that there are some languages that students from the United States approach casually. We say, “I’m going to brush up on my [fill in the language of your choice here].” Or, “I used to study [fill in the language of your choice here] in high school.” These languages tend to represent cultures that are nearer to the U.S. geographically and ideologically than the Middle East. Arabic is not one of these languages.

If you are American, chances are that there were no cable channels in your home that featured the Arabic language. Chances are that your local grocery chain didn’t have a specific marketing campaign to celebrate an Islamic holiday. Chances are, if you’re from the U.S., your favorite pop station isn’t regularly mixing Arabic-infused songs into its daily rotation. My point is this: Different languages and cultures are portrayed in different contexts in the United States. While Arabic class is fun, it’s also demanding, informative, challenging and rewarding. One thing it is definitely not, however, is an “easy A” for a Western, non-native/non-heritage speaker.

With this course, time must be carved out minimally five days a week for attentive practice. More than anything, this teaches me to moderate my expectations. If by the end of the semester I can…

  • politely and warmly greet people from the Maghreb, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula
  • introduce myself properly and respectfully
  • pronounce vowelled texts
  • count to one hundred
  • state the colors
  • know the days of the week and months of the year
  • name common food items
  • talk about the weather
  • and mention how I’m feeling…

I will be content.

If you didn’t catch Part I of this series last week, click here to go back in time, and be sure to follow our page on Facebook for more posts like this one.

Multiple types of marinated olives, a common food eaten in the Mediterranean. Photo Credit: Speleolog from Flickr

Multiple types of marinated olives, a common food item eaten in the Mediterranean world. Photo Credit: Speleolog

 

 *Mini-glossary of terms

abjad: The Arabic alphabet, which relies exclusively on consonants; most vowels are largely excluded from the script in writing.

hijabi: Any Muslim woman who wears a hijab, a covering for the hair, head, and upper body.

kursi: Literally “chair,” “throne,” “seat” or “stool.” In grammatical terms, the kursi is a written symbol upon which the Hamza (ء) sits but has no pronounced vowel.

Marhaba!: “Hello!”

Mumtaaz!: “Excellent!”

taliib (masc.)/taliibah (fem.): seeker of knowledge (“student”)

tanwiin: A grammatical term that refers to three different diacritical marks that indicate that a word ends in the sounds “-an,” “-in” or “-un”

Tasharrafna!: “Nice to meet you!”

ustaad (masc.)/ustada (fem.): teacher

waajib: homework

wasla: A diacritical mark (ٱ) that indicates the sound Hamza should be elided or suppressed in pronunciation

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