Center News

Two Modern Middle Eastern Studies Students Win the Thouron Award.

The Thouron-University of Pennsylvania Fund for British-American Student Exchange was created to promote better understanding and closer friendship between the people of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Through the exchange progarm students of exceptional ability from the University of Pennsylvania receive the Thouron Award to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom.

The Middle East Center is pleased to announce that two of the three awardees this year are Modern Middle Eastern Studies students.

Jade Huynh is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, who is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies in Global Human Rights. Her honors thesis, The Time-Honored Friendship, maps out a history of relations between Vietnam and Algeria from the beginning of the Indochina War in 1946 to the present day. Her academic and professional interests lie in labor rights and livelihood opportunities for forcibly displaced populations living in the Middle East, and particularly for Syrian refugees, whom she has worked directly with. Jade has served as a volunteer English tutor for Palestinian refugees living in Baqa’a refugee camp; interned for the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in the Office of Assistance for Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas; and worked with the Jordanian office of International Catholic Migration Commission, an international humanitarian NGO. Upon graduating, she will be pursuing the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford.

Angela Perfetti is a senior majoring in Modern Middle Eastern Studies with a minor in Chemistry. Her interests are in Medical Anthropology, on the intersections of society, culture, and medical practice. She will be studying Medical Anthropology at Durham University on the Thouron Award. Her previous research has focused on women’s health, health disparities, and environmental justice. Currently, she is working on a collaborative project that examines the ways in which qualitative methods are being used in patient-centered outcomes research, with the goal of informing funder guidelines and investigator research design. She is also working with a community health clinic in North Philadelphia to understand Iraqi refugees' perceptions of and decisions about seeking primary healthcare.

International Women's Day & Yazidis after the Trauma

During the week of March 15th the Middle East Center co-organized two fantastic events with our partners at the South Asia Center. “International Women’s Day 2016: Global Perspectives on Women, Food Security and Agriculture,” was a great success with 130 guests in attendance. The audience enjoyed a dynamic panel that explored the importance of women in agriculture around the world. Panelists included: Betsy Teutsch, author of 100 Under $100: 100 Tools for Empowering Global Women, Kirtrina M. Baxter, Community Organizer for Garden Justice Legal Initiative and Katera Y. Moore, Ph.D., Urban Geographer focusing on sustainability and agriculture at Penn’s Netter Center. 

Our second event on March 17th, “The Yazidis After the Trauma,” featured a lecture by Pulitzer journalist Emily Feldman that focused on her reporting work on Yazidi recovery after attempted genocide by ISIS militants. Her talk was followed by presentations from our 2015 Pulizer Reporting Fellows Priya Ramchandra and Farzana Shah who detailed their reporting stories and experiences as fellows of the program. Click on our their names to read their stories. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Pulitzer Reporting Fellow, click here.

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. 

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.

Spotlight: Speakers Bureau Program Visits Moorestown Friends School to Discuss Islam

The Speakers Bureau program provides a great opportunity for K-12 schools in the greater Philadelphia area to receive free lectures from the University of Pennsylvania’s advanced graduate students. Our speakers can cover a wide range of topics including politics, culture, religion, art, and gender issues related to the Middle East and North Africa. These sessions can be tailored to meet the needs of your classroom or organization.

This year the Speakers Bureau program will reach 15 schools and has been expanded to include diverse student populations from South Philadelphia High School, Philadelphia High School
for Creative & Performing Arts, Science Leadership Academy, ASPIRA Schools
of Pennsylvania, Boys Latin Middle School in West Philadelphia and Neshaminy High Schools in Langhorne, PA.

Recently, Carolyn Brunelle a CTL Fellow of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department, presented multiple lectures to the Moorestown Friends School.

On Wednesday, February 3rd, Carolyn Brunelle visited Moorestown Friends School to give two presentations to students regarding the Muslim world. The first lecture was presented to more than three hundred Upper School students and faculty and covered topics on terrorism, Islamophobia, and interpretations of Islam.  She also delivered personal stories about her experiences in Egypt allowing students to connect and understand more about the Muslim world. Brunelle’s second lecture entitled Islam: Unity and Diversity was presented to two hundred Middle School students and provided insight on Islamic principles, basic Arabic phrases, and a context for the images and information our students consume in the media. After each presentation, students asked great questions that allowed Brunelle to explore more ideas about the topics.

If you are a K-12 teacher and would like to book a speaker to come to your school, please email the Middle East Center at

The Middle East Center Translation Contest 2016 Winner is Ariel Resnikoff

The 2016 Penn Middle East Center Translation Contest focused on the translation of contemporary Hebrew texts from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The translations had to be at least one full page and were judged on their accuracy, style and grammar. 

This year, the Middle East Center is proud to announce Ariel Resnikoff as the winner of the Translation Contest. His translation of "Siftah" by Avoth Yeshurun was incredibly well done. Only a few of Yeshurun's have ever been accurately translated and, as a result, "Siftah" was an incredibly challenging poem to translate. Despite this challenge, Ariel's finished product was impressive and accurate. 

Ariel Resnikoff is a poet, translator and editor. His most recent works include the chapbook, Between Shades (Materialist Press, 2014) and the collaborative pamphlet and Ten Four: Poems, Translations, Variations (OS Press, 2015), with Jerome Rothenberg. Ariel is an editor-at-large on Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology (forthcoming Bloomsbury, 2017) and curates the "Multilingual Poetics" reading/talk series at Kelly Writers House. In 2013 he received a Dorot Fellowship & spent a year in Israel/Palestine studying Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French and Arabic poetries. Ariel first came to the work of Avoth Yeshurun as a student of the Hebrew-American poet, Harold Schimmel and the Israeli poet, Yoram Verete. His translations from the Hebrew of Yeshurun, Schimmel, and Verete have appeared in various publications, including the poetry/poetics web-journal, Wave Composition & the Jewish Daily Forward. Ariel is currently reading for a PhD in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania and lives with his wife, Rivka Weinstock, in the Cedar Park neighborhood of West Philadelphia.

This is the second year of the Middle East Center Translation Contest. The award will focus on the translation of a different language from the Middle East each year. 

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

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 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 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.