When Husam Samkari first moved to America from Saudi Arabia, he knew only a few simple English words. Now, just four years later, he is helping instruct a class of English-speaking students interested in learning the Arabic language and culture.
The class, held this semester every Wednesday night in the administration building, is intended to give people an introduction into all things Arabic, said Samkari, who is an electrical engineering student.
“The focus is to learn a little bit that you could use if you were to travel to (an Arabic country),” Samkari said.
He said when he moved to the area four years ago, he learned English by listening to English music, watching the news, reading children”s books, speaking with Americans and trying to learn from them. He is taking a similar approach to the class.
“When you like music, you search the lyrics to find out the words,” he said. “So it works the same, so that was one of my ways to put my life in English feel.”
He said so far in the class, they”ve discussed the differences in cultures, such as how to greet each other and begin conversations, and the language basics, such as how to introduce oneself and ask basic questions.
The class began right before spring break and concluded May 4. Samkari said the class regularly had about 15 students.
“I told the students, “I want you guys to have this interest – it”s a cool and common language. If you have this interest, I”ll show you the basics and general rules, then you can build on it and start to develop it on your own,”” Samkari said.
One of Samkari”s students, senior Alonso Arteaga, is fluent in several languages, and believes Samkari”s approach to the class is what makes it so helpful.
“The first day we focused on learning a letter of the alphabet, then vocabulary that goes with that letter,” Arteaga said. “I think that”s a better approach than most language courses. It makes you learn faster.”
He said learning the basics first has been essential because it has given him a solid foundation.
When Samkari first thought of bringing this class to UI, he enlisted the help of fellow instructor Shadi Alzanbagi, and with the help of International Outreach Coordinator Erin Rishling, they brought their idea to life.
“Chinese and Saudi students are the two largest minorities on campus, so it seemed really important to have something for students to get to exchange with the culture,” Rishling said.
She helped them find a classroom space, advertise the class and get approval to start it. Both Samkari and Alzanbagi are volunteer instructors, and she said they help the class flourish.
“This class is a perfect platform for people to go in and just learn more and meet some really great people,” Rishling said. “That”s what I think makes this class possible – it”s really accessible.”
She said it”s important for people to be able to understand other cultures, so when interacting with people from other areas of the world, there won”t be preconceived ideas obstructing a potential connection with that person.
“It”s a new class. It”s one that I would recommend to community, faculty, staff, students, anyone who has an interest and is wanting to pursue it,” Rishling said. “The instructors are friendly, welcoming and the group is really fun. It”s a winning combination.”