Arabic Study Abroad: Do it yourself

Last weekend I received an e-mail from a reader interested in spending his summer studying Arabic in Morocco. In my response to him I gave him some advice that I think applies to anyone interested in studying Arabic in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, finding a place to live and study can be very intimidating, especially in the Arab world. When you add the difficulties associated with moving anywhere abroad to the perceptions Americans have about life in the Middle East, studying Arabic abroad can seem like more trouble than its worth.

But the truth is that study abroad is essential for anyone in America looking to learn Arabic.

Fortunately there are plenty of programs that provide opportunities to study abroad. Some of these are scholarships, like the Boren Scholarship or the Critical Language Scholarship. Others are pay-your-way services like SIT. The former are great, and any Arabic student at any level should apply to them. You have nothing to lose and a free summer or year of Arabic study to gain. The latter, are a big joke.

Why pay-your-way services are a big joke

Many college level Arabic students don't have a lot of experience living on their own, and very little living abroad. Unless you've lived in or visited where you'd like to study, you probably have no idea what it takes to find and enroll into a language program or find housing for a year or a summer. 

The lucky ones win language study scholarships that take care of all of the necessary arrangements for free. For the rest of us, there are several popular services that package and sell complete study-abroad packages to students. Unfortunately, these services capitalize on this convenience, charging summer tuition comparable to the cost of a semester at an American university.

For instance, the popular SIT program charges almost $9000 for their 7-week summer language program in Morocco, not including airfare. In a country with a per capita GDP of $4,740, that seems like a bit much to me.

It's better to contact a language school yourself and enroll in courses directly. The SIT website does all the work for you, including a link to their partner school the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning in Rabat. From there you can find that students interested in studying Arabic can apply and enroll directly. The tuition and fees are not listed, but you can be certain it's less that $9000.

If that's too easy for you, a simple Google search for "arabic language study morocco" returns links to several language centers in Rabat and Fes. Qalam wa Lawh Center in Rabat offers fully inclusive study and accommodation. The Arabic Language Institute in Fes offers less expensive tuition and housing too.

Here's a comparison between these three options:

1. SIT

- 7 weeks of intensive Arabic and cultural immersion, including homestay and excursions = $9000

2. Study at Qalam wa Lawh (in Rabat)

- 7 weeks of intensive Arabic and a homestay = $2,840 (23,800 DH)

3. Study at Arabic Language Institute in Fes

- 6 weeks of intensive Arabic and a homestay = $1,834 (15,370 DH)

Basically there's no comparison. The only features that SIT has that the other programs don't is a big corporate name and excursions, which the other schools offer separately. It's also likely that while studying abroad you'll make friends with whom you'll want to travel with.

And with all of that money you're saving, you can go first class everywhere.

So why do people pay all of this money? Because it's easier to pay a service to take care of these arrangements than it is to do them yourself. And SIT knows that. They also know that people are scared of studying abroad. It's hard to leave your home and friends, especially going to the Middle East which is so different from America. And really, SIT sells comfort. It sells the comfort of working with an American institution. And the comfort of that big corporate brand and the paperwork associated with it.

But is that worth paying many times over the market price? And isn't the whole point of study abroad to have an adventure and do something different?

Research your study abroad country as if you were going on vacation. Learn which cities are interesting and attractive. Then search for language centers in those specific cities. The most established, most reputable ones will almost always have websites and e-mail addresses.

While the information above only applies to Morocco, every major city in the Arab world should have similar institutions that you can contact directly and offer similar services.


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  2. Thanks for sharing this useful information .great work ..keep it up abroad


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