Conquering the Language Divide
A home away from home can be a difficult thing to find. But Casey Addis ’04, Kristi Faris ’03, and Chelsea Jaccard ’03 found such a place this past summer. Granted, they traveled nearly halfway around the world to find it and did not speak the native language-but they found it.
The three Converse students were accepted into a study abroad program coordinated by the National Council on U.S./Arab Relations in partnership with the Virginia Military Institute, and were sent to Morocco to study Arabic. “We were in Morocco from June until July,” explains Kristi, “and stayed with Moroccan host families in the city of Fez. This was, in essence, an intensive language program.”
Even though none of the three had even the most basic understanding of the Arabic language, no time was wasted in experiencing the culture. “We arrived in Morocco on a Friday, and met our host families that Saturday,” said Casey.
To ensure that the three experienced a different flavor of life in Morocco, each host family differed in economic stature:
Kristi: “My family consisted of a mother, father, and their two-year-old daughter. They are a middle class family and live in an apartment. They are very modern and would have little trouble in adjusting to life in a larger country such as America.”
Chelsea: “I stayed with a 30-year-old single woman and her mother who are considered to be very poor financially. The woman has a job as a ‘go between’ for a realtor and his clients. It is difficult for her to find a higher paying job because she is looked upon differently by the community due to not being married.”
Casey: “The family I stayed with were not rich, but would probably be classified as being upper-middle class. They live in a house rather than an apartment. The father is an agricultural engineer for the Department of Agriculture, and the mother is a teacher. They have a 16-year-old son, a 13-year-old daughter, and a 5-year-old son.”
The families took their roles as hosts seriously and seemed to adopt the students as true family members. “Our host families were very protective of us and would constantly go out of their way to make sure we were comfortable,” said Casey. “For example, they would sleep on a couch or on the floor so that I would have a bed at night, and they would often accompany me on the way home from a store to ensure my safety. There is no doubt in my mind that if I showed up on their doorstep tomorrow, they would take me in and treat me as their own.”
Each day, the students received four hours of Arabic instruction from Moroccan instructors at the American Language Institute. “We had to start at the absolute basic alphabetical level,” said Chelsea. “We had to learn the Arabic alphabet, learn how to write the letters, then learn how to pronounce the words. Arabic can be especially tricky because many words can begin with the same letters but have different sounds.”
According to Kristi, communication with the host families was at first difficult because of the initial language barrier. “We tried just about every form of communication including hand gestures,” she said. “There was at least one person in each family who spoke English, and during those first few days we were aloud to speak English. But after that brief period we were required to communicate in Arabic.”