Nadya Al-Shawi works in the Language Resource Center as a Chinese tutor. A part of her job in the LRC means working with students who want to start language interest groups. This year, she decided to honor her Iraqi heritage by starting her own interest group - one for the Arabic language.
“I don’t think there’s ever been an Arabic interest group before,” Al-Shawi said. The group is working on its foundation by building up its membership, adding to the already motivated individuals who attend meetings. While motivation is necessary to start learning, experience isn’t - the group has a native Arabic speaker from Saudi Arabia who comes to help, alongside members who’ve studied in high school and others who’ve had no prior Arabic experience.
“You can have zero Arabic knowledge, zero Arab culture knowledge,” Al-Shawi said. “You can start fresh with an interest in learning, and come.”
Although the group centers around the Arabic language, their learning doesn’t stop just at literacy.
“It’s about the culture, the language, writing, reading, everything...And it’s not like one person’s teaching everyone, it’s more like a forum where everyone can just talk about things that they like or want to know about...it’s basically whatever you want it to be,” Al-Shawi said.
To enhance their cultural knowledge, the group studies the differences between Arab countries, acknowledging the value of these differences.
“So far we’ve looked at the different dialects,” Al-Shawi said. “[And] because the native speaker is from Saudi Arabia, we[‘ve] talked a lot about the difference between Saudi Arabia and other countries.”
The group has several goals for the future that they’re hoping will help them get involved with the community and grow their educational resources. One of these goals includes having professionals from the area come in and help teach the group. Another involves expanding Valpo’s academic foreign language program offerings.
“Maybe one day Valpo could introduce Arabic...it would be nice to have more cultural awareness,” Al-Shawi said.
To reach out and teach the community more about Arab culture, the group is hoping to get involved with more social events as well.
“I know we’ve had a [world banquet], and it’d be cool to get involved with that next time. I know the native speaker in the group did that and he made Saudi Arabian food,” Al-Shawi said.
Ultimately, the Arabic Interest Group is a place for individuals who want to explore a language and the associated cultures that differ from their own to come and experience learning alongside others with similar goals.
“Come if you have an interest, or you want to make new friends that have [that] common interest,” Al-Shawi said.
The Arabic Interest Group meets every other Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the Language Resource Center. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.