Sarah Geselowitz

The night before last, over harira, my mother and brother told me the story of the Miserly Man who ate only harira. Then of the new bride whose mother would not leave her alone. Last night, the story of Aicha accused of adultery.  I’ve had literally hundreds of stories now; of Mohammed and his companions and wives, of older prophets, of folk heroes, of my family’s ancestral village, and of their own lives in Marrakech.  Clever stories, and bitter stories, and happy ones.   And all of them told in Arabic.

Being able to take part in my family’s story-telling tradition is one of the warmest aspects of my NSLI-Y experience.  I am terrifically grateful to NSLI-Y for putting me in a position—cultural and linguistic—where I can participate in this tradition, among others.


Harira is the traditional Berber soup of Morocco

Each story reminds me of how far I’ve come in Arabic. I entered the NSLI-Y program with fledging Arabic, having studied independently for three months.  I’ve been formally studying the language for six months now, and understand my family’s classical Arabic with ease. The program’s language instruction is truly exceptional, unlike anything I’ve experienced.  My class, the advanced class, consists of only two students, allowing for plenty of individual attention.  (In other words, if you didn’t do your homework, you’d better have a good excuse!)  From the first day of class, our teacher had high expectations for us; English was banned, homework was plentiful, and no topic was considered too advanced for us to undertake.

Arabic class often feels more like a discussion seminar than a language class.  Some of the topics we’ve covered; abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, religion, evolution, various aspects of Moroccan and American culture, Zionism, plastic surgery, our favorite ice cream. With the strict “no English” rule, we’ve learned to communicate purely in Arabic even when we don’t have all the words. That is, we’ve learned to ask for words (e.g. “What do you call that movement that says that Israel is the Jewish homeland?”)  We are expected to memorize the vocabulary that crops up in class, and to complete a large amount of book work outside of class.  Needless to say, this intense language instruction has gone far.

koutoubia mosque

Koutoubiyya Mosque, 12th c., the oldest mosque in Marrakech

Culturally, I have had the privilege of living with a Moroccan family for my entire stay in Marrakech.  My host family has truly opened their home and their hearts to me, and I’ve learned so much about their lives and their perspectives.  I genuinely love them and consider them my family.  Meanwhile, the program has offered great support; I am certain that if any conflict had arisen between me and my host family, the program coordinators would have skillfully mediated it and, if necessary, moved me.  Compared to some of my friends in other exchange programs, who have felt that their programs dropped them off in a foreign country and abandoned them to life there, I’ve experienced constant support and encouragement from my resident director and the CLC staff.

Again, I am intensely grateful to NSLI-Y, Legacy, and the CLC for the linguistic and cultural opportunities afforded me.  One cannot fully understand a language without knowing the culture; one cannot fully understand a culture without knowing the language.  NSLI-Y has given me insight into both.  I am so lucky to be in this country, studying this language, with this program.” – Sarah Geselowitz

This program, Arabic Language Institute, is offered by Legacy International (USA) in partnership with the Center for Language and Culture is part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. Forty US students and 4 adult escorts  travelled to Morocco and explored new cultures, develop friendships, and increase knowledge of Arabic language and Islamic culture. The program is  6 weeks long, intensive, academic, and highly interactive.