Federal Grant to Fund Longstanding Arabic Program in Jordan Administered by U.Va.

September 24, 2012

An advanced Arabic program run through a partnership between the University of Virginia and Jordan’s Yarmouk University will continue in coming years with help from a Fulbright-Hays Group Study Abroad grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Each summer, students in the Arabic Program travel to Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan, for an intensive language study program. Students with two or more years of experience in Arabic can apply, and the 2013 program will run from June 8 to Aug. 8.

The approximately $90,500 federal grant is renewable for four years, and will help support the tuition, travel and daily expenses of 16 students per year, as well as administrative costs. The program is directed by professor Mohammed Sawaie of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences.

The accelerated nature of the program and the immersion in Middle Eastern culture helps students develop a better command of the language and encourages them to aim for fluency, Sawaie said.

“They do the equivalent of one year’s work over the summer,” he said. “Secondly, students gain a firsthand cultural experience by living in the society, interacting with students and others. I think we also build bridges between nations, as locals also get to know Americans firsthand.”

The program is in its 29th year and is the second-oldest overseas program at U.Va., Sawaie said. It’s also the longest-running program in an Arabic country sponsored by a U.S. university. Though administered by U.Va.,the program is open to applicants from other universities who meet the prerequisites. Typically, about a third of the participants are from U.Va.

Sawaie said past graduates of the program have gone on to become have gone to become professionals in law, medicine and other fields, and that there is an increasing need in the West for the type of expertise students cultivate in the program.

“Hopefully this experience inspires students to continue their interest in the region and to develop specializations and become the Middle East experts that the nation is in need of,” he said.

Students live at Yarmouk University during their stay, but are able to travel throughout the region. The program organizes several trips to archaeological sites, and students are also able to travel on their own.

“In regional terms, it’s an open society,” Sawaie said of Jordan. “If you check around with our students, you find that none of them has perceived any iota of threat or danger. Jordan thus far has been very stable and friendly.”

Several past students have become scholars in Middle Eastern studies, and Sawaie said he’s able to think of about 12 colleagues at peer institutions who participated in the program as students.

“We’re very grateful to receive this grant that will help us continue the program,” he said.

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Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications