December 18, 2020

Teaching Arabic bridges our differences and gives us meaningful real life experiences

For Arabic Language Day (يوم اللغة العربية), we interview our current Fulbright grantee Ms. Rana Sandouqa (FLTA cohort of 2020-21) to speak about her experience thus far teaching Arabic at the Catholic University of America and the environment she helped foster with virtual learning amidst the ongoing pandemic.

Ms. Rana Sandouka is one of Fulbright Jordan's current grantees for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Award for the 2020-21 academic cycle. Ms. Sandouqa started her award virtually this past fall from Amman and started her classes both as a teacher and student at The Catholic University of America that is located in Washington DC.  

For Arabic Language Day (يوم اللغة العربية) which is celebrated annually on December 18, we interviewed Ms. Sandouqa to speak about her experience thus far teaching Arabic at the Catholic University of America and the environment she helped foster with virtual learning amidst the ongoing pandemic and all the challenges it brought forward.

- Why were you drawn to teaching Arabic as a second language?

Given my love for languages, and my fascination to meet new people from different cultures across the globe, my parents weren’t surprised when I decided to combine it all by teaching Arabic language and culture to foreigners. I enjoy watching movies, hiking in nature on the Jordan Trail, and spending time with friends, family, and my cat during my free time. I’m also currently working on a project with a friend that aims to connect Palestinian and Syrian Refugees in Jordan with Arabic learners in the West. Do subscribe to the mailing list on the website to get notified about our launch!

معرفة والديّ بحبي للغات وحماسي لمقابلة أُناس جدد من شتى أنحاء العالم لم يدهشهم عند معرفتهم بقرار دمج حبي لكل ذلك عن طريق تدريس اللغة والثقافة العربية لغير الناطقين بها

- How has working with the Catholic University of America been?


My experience at the Catholic University of America has profoundly expanded my knowledge in many ways. As a teacher, it is fascinating to impart a language that I’m proud to speak as my mother-tongue to students in a foreign country where their exposure to the subject, oftentimes, doesn’t extend beyond their limited classroom environments. So I feel it is vital for me to act as a cultural ambassador of my land and people, and I strive to shed light on the other aspects of the language such as my rich Jordanian-Palestinian heritage, the flavorful Arab cuisine, our collective history and the way we see the conflicts in the region, and other things that can enrich their learning and break their myopic stereotypes.


On the other hand, becoming a university student again after several years of disruption has been quite challenging yet nevertheless an intriguing experience. It took me a while to get adjusted to the American education system where the amount of weekly readings is much higher than what you’re accustomed to at Jordanian universities.

- What are some of the challenges you have been facing studying and teaching virtually?


Washington DC is 7 hours behind Amman, so the time difference is sometimes difficult to cope up with when it gets late here. I think contacting people virtually over Zoom where one hides behind the screen can be limiting, you start feeling disconnected after a while. Sitting in the same position for hours on the computer can adversely affect your physical and mental health.


- What are some ways you found helpful to cope with these challenges? (you can include actual tips like time-management, or things like the rewarding feeling of seeing the students learn and progress in class)


I had to reschedule my daily routine (including my sleep!) to suit the class timings, which operates on East Coast time. My supervisor and I tried to encourage our students to meet us during the office hours in individual settings, so that helped us get to know them more and offered us a chance to create a bond. I also make it a habit to disconnect from the virtual world and go on short walks everyday to keep my physical and mental health intact. 

Ms. Sandouqa takes a group photo with some of her Arabic students during one of their synchronous sessions


- In your opinion, why do you think exchange programs are important in the times we live in? or using language to bring people together?


We live in extraordinary times. Despite the overwhelming platforms that aid us to connect, there is still an actual need to know the other. Exchange programs like the Fulbright FLTA award play an important role in bridging our differences and have meaningful real life experiences. I still remember when my students were thrilled to hear the US President-Elect Joe Biden say the Arabic phrase “In-sha’Allah” - God willing in the first presidential debate. It felt rewarding and encouraging for them to keep up with their own language learning process and appreciate the cultural subtleties. Languages can bring people together and reinstate our faith in humanity.

برامج التبادل الثقافي كبرنامج فولبرايت لتدريس اللغة الأجنبية يلعبون دوراً مهماً ببناء جسور من التفاهم لسد فجوات الاختلاف والمضي لعيش تجربة حقيقة في الحياة

More about Ms. Rana Sandouqa:

Prior to joining the Fulbright global family, Ms. Sandouqa worked as an Arabic instructor for over 7 years at three of the most influential language schools in Amman, such as the Consortium For Global Education (CGE), Qasid, and Sijal Institute. There she was able to teach the intricacies of the Arabic language to non-native students, primarily English-speaking students from the West. Ms. Sandouqa earned her Bachelor's degree in Foreign Languages from the University of Jordan where she specialized in German and English.

Ms. Sandouqa will be travelling to the United States to continue her award in person for the Spring of 2021.

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