Colby needs a real Arabic program

I think it’s safe to say that the Middle East plays a large role in both global politics and economics. As someone who studies the Middle East substantially, maybe I’m a little bit biased, but I’ll stand by that statement. And once again, as someone who studies the Middle East pretty extensively, I feel cheated by Colby for impeding the completion of my studies.

Language is a gateway to understanding peoples, cultures, and societies. Arabic and the Middle East are inextricably linked. The Islamic faith has its roots in the Middle East and specifically the Arabic-speaking world. The Qur’an, the holy text for Muslims, is written in Arabic and is believed to be the literal word of God. According to Islamic tradition, the Qur’an cannot be translated into another language. Any “translation” of the Qur’an is technically an “interpretation” as the translator is altering the word of God. By closing off a true understanding of one of the largest faiths in the world, especially while “politicians” like Donald Trump propose excluding refugees based on their Islamic heritage, Colby is doing a disservice to the students here.

The current Arabic instruction that takes place at Colby is unable to provide students with a cohesive platform for attaining proficiency. Every year, a different Fulbright Fellow is invited to the school to teach Arabic courses. That means that students who take courses face a lack of consistency in instruction means, methods, and standards. Furthermore, Colby does not allow these Arabic courses to count towards the three semester language requirement. This is attributed to the fact that instruction is on a year-by-year basis, and if problems were to arise with the Fulbright Fellow, a student could be stranded with only two semesters-worth of language instruction. This exact scenario occurred my sophomore year, 2013-2014. The Fulbright fellow was not allowed to enter the United States due to visa issues, and Arabic instruction at Colby was suspended for a year.

These factors pushed me into taking Italian for my language requirement. And while I find exceptional beauty in the Italian language (not to mention the food), my academic interests do not lie with Italy or even Europe. Given the choice, I would have taken Arabic, but unfortunately that choice was not open to me and is not open to dozens of other students. This also makes my future more difficult.

I hope to enter graduate school for a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies. My lack of knowledge in Arabic puts me at a huge disadvantage when compared to my peers who attend other institutions that have invested in Arabic instruction.

I’m not naïve. I understand that bringing full-time Arabic instruction to Colby would be a huge financial and logistical commitment. But in a time when Colby is making huge strides in revitalizing its athletic facilities, performing arts centers, and even downtown Waterville, why not revitalize its academics as well?

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