Early on a Saturday morning, high school and middle school students eagerly file into Gulick Hall, settling in for 90 minutes of intensive study. The weekly class, which also includes several parents and professors, is a new effort by Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Zouhair El Aouni to give the community the opportunity to learn the Arabic language. The offering is part of the Geneva 2020 initiative launched between the Geneva School District and HWS.
“This has been a goal of mine for a long time,” explains El Aouni. “It’s my ethical duty as a Fulbright scholar to be a cultural ambassador. I am here not only to teach vocabulary and language, but culture.”
Hailing from Morocco, El Aouni believes that there is much for young students to gain from learning about his native language and the rich values, customs and traditions linked to it.
“Language is used as a bridge,” he says. “I am an Arab Muslim; there are a lot of stereotypes and images about Arab Muslims. I hope that this will relieve some of those negative views, that, in the future, these students will not focus on the bad, but the good.”
While the class mostly focuses on the language – learning the Arabic alphabet and establishing basic conversational phrases – El Aouni plans to include many opportunities for fun and activities, including skits recorded for YouTube and song.
Interaction is key – particularly when considering his newfound students are giving up a piece of their weekend to further their education. “I want to motivate and engage them. They are coming to these classes on a voluntary basis, and I want them to feel like their effort is being rewarded.”
El Aouni hopes that his class is just a first step in a continuing relationship between future Fulbright assistants and the Geneva community. Not only could such language classes dispel a young student’s fear over the difficulty of taking a foreign language, but such offerings promote understanding of a multitude of cultures.
The class meets each Saturday in November at 10 a.m. in Gulick Hall.
In addition, El Aouni will speak to members of the campus community on “Morocco: Why Not the Arab Spring?” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7 in the Sanford Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library. The talk, sponsored by the Office of Intercultural Affairs, will also include a traditional Moroccan dinner.
El Aouni graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Mohamed V University in Rabat, Morocco in 2006, and went on to earn a master’s degree in Trilingual Translation (Arabic, English, French) from Hassan II University in Mohamedia, Morocco in 2008. He is currently preparing to pursue a Ph.D. from Mohamed V University. Prior to his tenure as a Fulbright Scholar, El Aouni served as an instructor of English at Mohamed V University and as a professor of business law and business research methods at the American University of Leadership, Morocco.