Center News

Arabic Spotlight: Language Aficionado, Oscar Chim, Tells MEC about His Passion for Arabic and Dr. Huda Fakhreddine Speaks about Arabic Education 

One of our goals at the Middle East Center is to increase understanding of cultures, histories and languages found in the Middle East and North Africa. We were so inspired and impressed by undergraduate Oscar Chim’s passion for Arabic that we wanted to share it with our community. We hope you find his story as fascinating as we do! We also included an interview with leading Arabic scholar and UPENN professor Dr. Huda Fakhreddine, so interested students can learn more about our incredible language team. Don’t forget to see Dr. Fakhreddine speak at her MEC lecture, “Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition,” on February 18, 2016 at 5:30pm where she will discuss her new book of the same name. 

MEC: What sparked your interest to study Arabic?

Oscar: I was originally born and raised in Hong Kong, and grew up speaking English and Cantonese, while being exposed to Mandarin on a near-daily basis in Chinese classes at school. Therefore, when I began my French studies in the seventh grade, I was invigorated by the exoticism of learning a foreign language and was delighted at that time to have been at the top of my grade for my achievements in the subject for several years. Then, in preparation for Summer 2008, my mother, a true visionary who hoped to design a bright career outlook for me, was brainstorming hobbies that I could potentially take up given my linguistic talent, and suggested that I join a four-week Arabic immersion program held by the Middleburg-Monterey Language Academy in California. 

Initially, I was intimidated by the language pledge, which forbade the usage of any language but formal Arabic, and the sheer presence of students of Arab descent and/or with prior experience in the language. One week into the summer camp, I started to enjoy the challenge of learning this unfamiliar language and, throughout the program, was fascinated by many aspects of the Arab region and was surprised to have had most of my misconceptions shattered through conversations with individuals with ties to the region, some of whom I still keep in touch with today.

After the program and prior to starting at Penn in 2013, I had almost no resources around me to cultivate my studies, and thus resorted to learning new words and expressions in both the formal and informal (mostly the colloquial Levantine dialect) registers by listening to all genres of Arabic Music, decoding and memorizing travel phrasebooks, attempting to read Al-Jazeera Arabic, and watching MBC programs online. At my boarding high school in Massachusetts, I led and involved myself with as many activities pertinent to the MENA region as possible, and bonded closely with those with similar interests. Most importantly, whenever I meet friends and acquaintances from the region, I always practice what I have picked up and learn more authentic expressions from them.

All in all, the rarity of opportunities to develop my interest in the Arabic language and culture during most of my teenage years after the summer program in 2008 was the main source of my long-lasting passion for the Arabic language and the Arab region. 

MEC: Could you please tell us a bit about your experience in the Modern Middle East Studies major?  

Oscar: When applying for colleges, I was very determined to attain proficiency in the Arabic language and gain a better understanding of the Arab region. Thus, after some research, Penn's Modern Middle East Studies major seemed like the perfect fit for me, and I even visited the MEC and met with Dr. Darakcioglu when I was a prospective student in 2012. 

All in all, I am very satisfied with my experience with the MMES major, as its guidelines and requirements have given me the epitome of an interdisciplinary education, the ideal in which Penn has always taken pride-- from my Arabic classes, to a lecture titled "War, Politics, and Everyday Life in the Modern Middle East" with Dr. Kashani-Sabet, and even to lectures on Islamic finance held by Professor McMillen in the Law School.

MEC: Do you plan to pursue a career related to your studies after you graduate? 

Oscar: This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern at the Islamic Finance and Wholesale Banking divisions of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, where I had the chance to speak Arabic on a daily basis and gained invaluable exposure to the work culture in the region-- from the more conservative Islamic environment to Westernized multinational settings. Looking down the road, it is my dream to continue to develop my career prospects in consulting and restaurant franchising in the Gulf region this summer and after I graduate in 2017. 

MEC: Writing an entire seminar paper in Arabic for Prof. Fakhreddine’s poetry class is very impressive. Can you tell us about some of the rewarding and challenge aspects of this process?

Oscar: Given that I only started to solidify my fundamental Arabic vocabulary and grammar when I began at Penn in 2013, Prof. Fakhreddine's graduate poetry class was one of the biggest academic challenges in which I engaged during my undergraduate career. In the second class, we dealt with the prominent pre-Islamic poet and royal figure Imru' al-Qais's works in al-Mu'allaqat, a compilation of seven Arabic poems from the pre-Islamic era- at this point, I was intimidated by the unfamiliar vocabulary, rhyme schemes, and themes therein. As the semester progressed, I would spend around five to six hours on each set of the assigned poems and still not be able to complete all of them, as I am one to note down and try to digest every new word I had come across. And, although I struggled with the work, being exposed to Arabic poetry, a fundamental part of the Arabic literary heritage and contemporary culture, provided me with insights into many aspects of the lifestyles in what we perceive as the Middle East today that would not necessarily correspond with widespread cultural norms in the region today-- from heavy drinking habits to "heretic" viewpoints on Islam.

I ended the course by writing a seminar paper discussing manifestations of the theme of "renaissance" in one of the modern Iraqi poet Badr Shakr al-Sayyab's poems, and from the process genuinely sensed the intersection of and mutual correspondence between the types of revolutionary thought in Iraq and many Arab societies in the post-colonial era from the end of WWII into the late 1960's: literary/linguistic (with the introduction of free-verse against the backdrop of structured meters and structures of conventional Arabic poetry) as well as socio-economic and political dissent. 

MEC: Do you have any tips or recommendations to your fellow students who would like to achieve high levels of proficiency in Arabic?

Oscar: Besides exposing myself to many varieties of Arabic media from for the past seven years, what has helped me the most in reaching proficiency in Arabic is my willingness to practice the language with natives, both in the US and in the Arab region. In fact, although I did not have the opportunity to be a part of a formal study-abroad program in the region, my biggest advancement in my Arabic speaking skills came from staying in Jordan for three weeks in the summer of 2014 as a part of the Penn International Impact Consulting program and interning at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi in the UAE for two months in the summer of 2015, during which I had the chance to be exposed to and absorb many Arabic dialects- from Levantine, to Emirati, to Egyptian, and to Tunisian all in one place. Learning through immersion and being light-heartedly willing to express my thoughts only in Arabic, albeit in occasionally awkward phrases amalgamating different accents and sentences lost in translation, is my most useful piece of advice to fellow students learning Arabic or any other foreign languages. In order to be proficient in a language, you have to feel like you were already born into it, so as to not give yourself any excuses to shy away from thinking in and practicing it. Oh, and I neglected to mention that I also have this compulsive habit of writing all new Arabic words and expressions in the "Notes" section of my phone! 


Interview with Arabic Professor Dr. Huda J. Fakhreddine

MEC: Have you ever thought a course in Arabic before?

Dr. Fakhreddine: I have taught the seminar on Arabic Poetry twice at Penn so far in addition to a seminar on Early/Classical Arabic Prose which was offered last spring. Before joining Penn, I taught several senior seminars conducted entirely in Arabic on topics ranging from Modern Arabic poetry, the Arabic novel, the Arabic short story and drama and others.

MEC: What are some of the challenging and rewarding aspects of teaching a seminar in Arabic?

Dr. Fakhreddine: Teaching seminars in Arabic on Arabic literature is a very rewarding experience for me. It allows us as a group to address the linguistic intricacies of a text and engage with it in ways the are not possible in translation. This especially applies to poetry. I also think it is very important that these classes allow us to engage with works of literature and criticism that are not available in translation.

The main challenge of teaching a seminar in Arabic is providing the necessary  guidance for students to write academically and conduct research in Arabic. These seminars usually have a final research project. We work our way to it through short written responses and the exploration of possible resources and references.

MEC: Do you have any tips for students, especially for undergrads, who want to increase their Arabic proficiency?

Dr. Fakhreddine: I believe that taking content courses in Arabic should be the crowning experience of years of language study. Students are often apprehensive but its a necessary step to take if they are truly invested in learning the language. The training one gets from reading authentic texts, discussing them in class, and responding to them in writing not only hones linguistic skills but offers genuine insights into the culture.

The best way to increase Arabic proficiency is to keep reading and listening to Arabic on a daily basis. There are many ways to do that especially with all the resources available online. Merely reading news headline in Arabic everyday helps build vocabulary and reinforce grammar in a meaningful context.

Don’t forget to see Dr. Fakhreddine speak at her MEC lecture, “Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition,” on February 18, 2016 at 5:30pm where she will discuss her new book. 

UPENN’s National Resource Centers Are Now Accepting Applications for the Master Teacher Fellowship in Global Education

Attention K-12 and Community College Educators!

The Master Teacher Fellowship in Global Education will be awarded to two teachers this April. The winning fellows must be K-14 teachers in the Delaware Valley who have shown substantial commitment to incorporating global studies into the school or classroom.

Each fellow will receive a $500 stipend to be used for conference/training registration, travel to a conference/training, classroom materials, etc. The Master Teacher Fellows will serve as education ambassadors for the University of Pennsylvania's South Asia and Middle East Centers from April 2015 to April 2016 and lead one public workshop for pre-service and current educators. Upon completion of the fellowship, a brief report will be required.

**Educators from HBCUs, MSIs & Community Colleges, people of color, people with disabilities, women, and LGBT candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.

To apply, complete the online application form and send your current resume/CV to railiroy@sas.upenn.edu

Application Deadline: Sunday April 10, 2016 11:59 PM

The Middle East Center Undergraduate Essay Contest 2016 is now accepting submissions

The Middle Center (MEC) at the University of Pennsylvania is now accepting submissions for our 2016 Essay Contest. The competition is open to all current Penn undergraduates. Essays may deal with any topic within the context of the modern Middle East/North Africa. Papers addressing any aspect of the region from the late 18th century to present will be considered for the prize. All entries should be the student’s original work and previously not published elsewhere.

There will be a first place prize of $500 awarded to the winner. The Center will also award one honorable mention prize of $200.

Please submit entries to mec-info@sas.upenn.edu with the subject, “Undergraduate Essay Contest,” no later than Monday, March 28, 2016 by 5 p.m. Essays should range from 3000 to 5000 words, not including notes, charts, appendices and bibliography. Please use MLA citation when submitting papers.

Middle East Center Fall 2015 Newsletter Released: See where we have been in 2015!

The Middle East Center Fall 2015 Newletter has been released. It includes information regarding various events the Center has recently held, details on K-12 student outreach programs, programs completed with local community colleges, and a spotlight on staff member, Alex DeBerardinis. For more information about upcoming events please visit the homepage of the MEC website! To download the full newsletter, please click on the link below.

The Middle East Center (MEC)Translation Contest for 2015 is now accepting submissions. This year the contest will consider original translations of modern Hebrew texts from the 20th and 21st centuries. Translations must be at least one full page of text (double-spaced) of either prose or poetry that currently do not have published English translation. Submissions will be judged on accuracy, style and grammar.

By submitting an entry, contestants agree that the translation is their original work.  Along with their translations, entrants should also truthfully indicate their level of Hebrew (one year, two years, heritage speaker, native speaker, etc.). This competition is open to graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania.

Entries can be submitted to mec-info@sas.upenn.edu with the subject, “MEC Translation Contest: Modern Hebrew,” by December 4, 2015 at 5 p.m. 

MEC Affiliated Faculty, Huda J. Fakhreddine, publishes Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition

The Middle East Center would like to congratulate Huda J. Fakhreddine (Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature at the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations) on the publication of her new book, Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition.

In Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition, Fakhreddine expands the study of metapoesis to include the Abbasid age in Arabic literature. Through this lens that is often used to study modernist poetry of the 20th and the 21st century, this book detects and examines a meta-poetic tendency and a self-reflexive attitude in the poetry of the first century of Abbasid poets. What and why is poetry? Are questions the Abbasid poets asked themselves with the same persistence and urgency their modern successor did. This approach to the poetry of the Abbasid age serves to refresh our sense of what is “modernist” or “poetically new” and detach it from chronology.

Huda Fakhreddine is a specialist in Arabic literature. Her work focuses on modernist movements or trends in Arabic poetry and their relationship to the Arabic literary tradition. Fakhreddine has also explored Translation Studies, the politics of translation and its role in creating the image and status of Arabic literature in other languages. She holds an MA in English literature from the American University of Beirut and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Indiana University, Bloomington.

MEC Participates in EdCamp
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Claudia Cohen Hall, Terrace Room
Williams Hall, 2nd Floor
https://edcampdelvalis.wordpress.com/
Twitter: #edcampDVIS (for more pictures)

On Thursday, August 6, 2015, over 60 educators from across the Delaware Valley and Philadelphia area convened on Penn campus for a day-long EdCamp program, an “unconference” for K-12 teachers and administrators. EdCamp Delaware Valley Independent Schools (DVIS) was generously sponsored by Edu-Tech Academic Solutions of Malvern, PA, and co-sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies, South Asia Center, Middle East Center, and American Center for Mongolian Studies, at Penn.

EdCamps are teacher gatherings, or "un-conferences," that facilitate personalized professional development through voluntary, participant-driven sessions. Unlike traditional conferences which have schedules set months in advance by the conference organizers, the agenda is created by the teacher participants at the start of the program. The EdCamp model of “unconference” began in Philadelphia in 2010, more than 700 Edcamps have been held internationally, in 25 different countries and 140 cities.

On August 17, 2015, the EdCamp Foundation announced that they are the recipients of a $2 million dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This will provide EdCamp with a path to take EdCamp to greater heights, offering opportunities for EdCamp to develop “EdCamp in A Box,” “Discovery Grants,” and Regional Organizer Summits.

Teachers who attended the EdCamp on August 6th presented on session topics including: Using the City as your Classroom, Shakespeare, Tech, and Students, Teaching Cultural Bias and Social Justice in Primary Grades, and Global Ed Resources in Philadelphia. The full schedule, along with public notes, can be found here.

Attendees showed visible excitement and energy throughout the day and post-event evaluations also demonstrated the success of the program. Of survey respondents, 76% said that they agree that EdCamp helped grow their professional learning network, 76% reported that they will implement a new idea from EdCamp into their classroom for this upcoming year, and 95% agreed that EdCamps are a great way to deliver professional development.

The Centers at Penn also believe that the EdCamp model is a strong and desirable method of professional development for K-12 teachers and administrators, and look forward to sponsoring future EdCamps for our teacher constituents.

Teacher Training, "Turkey: Then and Now", successfully completed
August 21, 2015
3907 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6031

On August 21, 2015, the Middle East Center conducted a teacher-training workshop called, “Turkey: Then and Now”. The center hosted thirteen teachers from a wide range of schools across Greater Philadelphia, for an intimate and engaging workshop on teaching Turkey in K-12 classrooms. The event was also an opportunity for participants of the Middle East Center 2011 Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad , “American Issues in a Global Context: Turkey in the World”, to report back on teaching tools gained from their six week teacher training trip in Turkey.

The workshop started with a lecture from Labaron Palmer. Labaron is currently a doctoral student in the department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. His most recent academic interests have been focused on the confluence of theory and practice as it relates to the distinctive issues that are impacting major cities in the U.S., Middle East and Africa including the intersections of social equity, economic development and environmental awareness. For his portion of, “Turkey: Now and Then”, Labaron added spatial contextualization to conceptions of borders, migration and politics in Turkey, based on his experiences as a participant in the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad and his doctoral research at Temple. He concluded his presentation by demonstrating how teachers can use cognitive mapping as a technique to incorporate geography of the Middle East into K-12 curriculums.

The workshop concluded with a talk by Julie Lenard. After over ten years in education, primarily as an English teacher in Philadelphia, Julie Lenard founded The Storyologist, LLC. The Storyologist provides writing consulting, writing coaching, workshops and helps educators use stories as a powerful education tool for teaching global curriculums. For her part of, “Turkey: Now and Then”, Julie examined different Turkish stories and perspectives from the summer of 2011, based on experiences as a participant in the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad trip. She also presented strategies for using stories in the classroom to teach and learn about cultural identity.

Dr. Sharkey's Seminar Explores Historical Ties between Penn and the Middle East 

Since the inception of first Arabic professorship in the United States in 1782, the University of Pennsylvania has been a pioneering institution for the study of Middle East. The Penn Museum’s engagement in the region through excavations and expeditions goes back to the nineteenth century. To explore these strong historical ties, Dr. Heather J. Sharkey, an associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, offered a freshman seminar in fall 2014. To read more about Dr. Sharkey’s seminar “Here and Over There: Penn, Philadelphia, and the Middle East” and students’ experience please click here

Summer Institute on Transnational Experiences: Engaging with World Heritage 

This year’s global education Summer Institute, an annual week-long professional development program for teachers hosted by Penn’s National Resource Centers since 2005 (South Asia Center, Center for East Asian Studies, Middle East Center, Africa Center) focused on Philadelphia’s bid to become the first World Heritage City in the United States. The event, titled “Translational Experiences: Engaging with World Heritage” was co-sponsored by Global Philadelphia Association, a citywide organization promoting international consciousness within the region and enhancing the region’s global profile. The Global Philadelphia Association is leading the effort to make Philadelphia a World Heritage City in partnership with the City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department.

The Summer Institute helped teachers connect Greater Philadelphia, its history and social climate to global histories and contexts.  Thirty educators from the region were selected from over 70 applicants. These educators exhibited leadership in their schools and education networks and showed a commitment to global education. Of the selected participants, 60% teach in Philadelphia School District public or charter schools, 25% teach in independent schools and 15% teach in parochial schools.

The program was held at Penn’s LGBT Center from July 13-17 and featured faculty presentations from:

  • David Brownlee, Professor of History of Art, “History of World Heritage Conservation & the ‘Case’ for Philadelphia”
  • Brian Daniels, Director of Research, Penn Cultural Heritage Center, “The Impact of UNESCO World Heritage Status & Indigenous Peoples’ Heritage Rights”
  • Ali Ali-Dinar, Associate Director, Africa Center, “Lessons from the Past: Africa’s World Heritage”
  • Pushkar Sohoni, South Asian Studies Librarian, “History of Architectural Practices in India”
  • Fariha Khan, Associate Director, Asian American Studies Program, “International Philly: Being Involved with Cultural Heritage”
  • Salam Al Kuntar, Visiting Scholar, “Human Mobility, Cultural Boundaries, Heritage & Identity in the Middle East”
  • Rashmi Kumar, Learning Instructor, Weingarten Learning Resources Center, “Tech Tools for the Global Educator”

The Institute introduced educators to the Philadelphia Folklore Project through a workshop with Linda Deafenbaugh, the organization’s Education Specialist and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture through a panel discussion with Founder and Executive Director, Hazami Sayed. Both organizations bring global heritage arts and culture into schools.   

The educators also visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Penn Museum where they heard from museum educators and did reflective activities in the galleries. Hitomi Yoshida, Diversity Programs Manager, highlighted the Penn Museum’s International Classroom Program. As part of the program, Stephanie Mach, a grad student in Penn’s Anthropology Department, gave a presentation on Navajo and Lenape material culture and heritage.  

Fernando Trevino from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant & Multicultural Affairs presented about Philly’s new and old immigrants. Greater Philadelphia has the largest and fastest growing immigrant population of any major U.S. metro area, which is now 12% of the total population (Brookings Institution). Trevino highlighted the need to support newcomers in their integration process and the important role of teachers and schools.

Diverse and delicious lunches curated by Amelia Carter, Program Coordinator of Penn’s Middle East Center, featured Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Mexican and Senegalese cuisine.

Penn’s 2015-2016 Master Teacher Fellows in Global Education, Danielle Heeney and Sarah Sharp, shared their triumphs and challenges bringing “global ed” into the classroom. They facilitated discussions about incorporating state standards, working with limited resources, and accommodating all learners.  Kathleen Hall, Associate Professor of Education and Anthropology, came by the Institute to support the teachers and learn how best to introduce these techniques to pre-service educators in the Graduate School of Education. Globalizing teacher education through the Master Teacher Fellowship and partnering with the Graduate School of Education are key initiatives supported by the South Asia Center and Middle East Center.

The educators did a daily web discussion on the teachers networking site, Edmodo, and gave group presentations full of resources for teaching about the Middle East, Africa, Europe, East Asia & Oceania, and South and Southeast Asia. The culminating piece of the Summer Institute is a World Heritage Tool Kit, a public resource for all educators. The tool kit will include lesson plans and activities to help educators and their students develop transnational analysis in their classrooms by using world heritage as a framework to understand global regions across disciplines. The World Heritage Tool Kit will be released this fall during GlobalPhilly15, an exposition of all things international organized by Global Philadelphia Association.

Anastasia Shown, lead organizer of the Summer Institute, said that this year was one of the best yet. “The educators really absorbed the material and felt honored to be part of such an important moment in Philadelphia’s history. They also learned that the city has so much to offer in terms of global education.” Shown looks forward to working with the educators and their classrooms throughout the year as part of her outreach work at the South Asia and Middle East Centers.

One of this year’s participants said, “this workshop has deepened my own personal knowledge base on world heritage and the various world regions/cultures that were discussed.  As a result, I feel more confident in my teaching.  I also learned different approaches/resources that I can use to bring global awareness into the classroom and connect with the city of Philadelphia.” 

Another participant shared, “I gained so much from this workshop and it is hard to quantify the knowledge. I gained new awareness of world heritage sites and process, history, pros and cons, and criterion. I benefited immensely from the range of speakers and topics. The coordinators of the seminar provided an immense array of viewpoints and concrete information, and tied all into Philadelphia as a possible world heritage city as well as UNESCO/World Heritage Sites in general. There is so much to contemplate.” 

Another concluded, “I learned how to incorporate global heritage in other subjects, not just social studies. I now have a better understanding of global heritage and many different regions from around the world that make me a more confident and knowledgeable teacher.”

For more information visit the Summer Institute website: https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/globalsummerinstitute/

Nutter continues push to make Philadelphia World Heritage City (Newsworks)

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/philadelphia/83997-nutter-continues-push-to-make-philadelphia-world-heritage-city