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A Guide to Arabic Language Schools Abroad

Whether your Arabic career is just getting started (ahlan w sahlan!) or you’re already fluent (mumtaz!), earning an Arabic degree abroad is guaranteed to stimulate your intellect and senses. After a grueling day of Arabic grammar, unwind in the bustling maze of an ancient medina or post up with a fresh mint lemonade on a cosmopolitan beach with Fayrouz’s enchanting voice just audible over the waves. Take your language skills for a test drive outside the classroom to charm shopkeepers or wiggle your into way into guarded ruins; the possibilities with your Arabic major are endless.

Why Earn an Arabic Degree Abroad

As the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world and the primary language of a large and dynamic region, Arabic language study seems ever more critical in today’s tumultuous times.

Maybe you want to see another side to the media coverage of contemporary conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon, or maybe you’re captivated by ancient civilizations along the Nile and between the Tigris and Euphrates. Perhaps you’re chasing the perfect tabouleh or you’re dying to read Khalil Gibran’s poetic wisdom in its original Arabic. Whatever your motivation, getting a degree in Arabic will undoubtedly unveil a rich literary tradition, vibrant political sphere, and colorful collection of cuisines and cultures.

So, why venture out when you could learn Arabic from the comfort of your home turf? There’s no better way to learn a language than to be surrounded by it: at the grocery store, on billboard signs, in the streets. Tackling an Arabic major surrounded by native speakers will bring lessons to life outside of the classroom and enhance learning by pushing you to communicate about something other than the United Nations and Maha’s loneliness. Earning an Arabic degree abroad also offers the opportunity to really master a single dialect, allowing you to chat with peers in Arabic in a way that the more rigid Standard Arabic doesn’t make possible. Aiwa ba’a ya basha!

An Arabic degree abroad will not only take your linguistic skills to the next level, it will also give your resume that extra twinkle. With a bit of professional savvy, Arabic degree holders will have little trouble finding employment after graduation, especially those who studied in an Arab country. The commitment to living life in Arabic while earning your degree shows potential employers that you’re adaptable and have put your language skills to the test outside the classroom— beelining you to the top of that stack of CV’s.

With the high demand for bilingual English and Arabic speakers, especially in government positions, scholarships exist in many countries to encourage students to study Arabic, both in their home countries and abroad.

Locations

Whether you want to study in an Arabic-speaking country or a top-tier international university, you’ll find plenty of options to earn your degree in Arabic.

If you’re drawn to the Arabic language by the richness of Arab cultures and histories, lively street politics, or sultry stories from Orientalist travel journals, then studying in an Arabic-speaking country might be up your alley. Embark on the adventure of a lifetime by diving into a degree program in settings like Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE, and Morocco. Costs of living in most of these countries (with the exception of Lebanon and the UAE) are much lower than in Western countries, so you’ll be able to afford that camel trek through the desert or – let’s be real – that extra round of mouthwatering mezze.

European and North American universities, including campus settings from London and Berlin to small town Vermont, also host many competitive degree programs in Arabic. These programs are ideal for students who crave the structure and comforts of home, but want to sharpen their Arabic skills. Most universities will offer opportunities to study abroad in Arabic-speaking countries, if this seems more your pace. Arabic degree programs in Europe and North America also provide interesting windows into substantial Arab diaspora communities in these regions, pushing culture, race, language, and geography beyond borders.

Arabic Degrees Abroad

Academic caliber and program options will likely be big components of where you choose to commit to an Arabic degree abroad. After all, a degree is a substantial investment of your time, money, and brain space, so you want to make sure the whole package is the right fit for you.

Four-year undergraduate programs are most common among Arabic degree options abroad. Degree certificates for one year of coursework are also available for those who just want to dip their toes in the Arabic waters. Arabic Graduate programs are less frequent and more specialized; common specializations for students in Arabic master’s programs include translation, literary analysis, and teaching Arabic as a foreign language.

In the Arab region, the American Universities in Beirut, Cairo, and Dubai (let’s call them the ABCD’s) offer a range of certificates, as well as undergraduate and master’s degrees in Arabic language and literature. Al-Akhawayn University in the mountains of Morocco and Kuwait University along the shores of the Persian Gulf likewise offer Arabic degree programs catered to native English speakers and based on a western education system. At these schools it will take you four years to complete a bachelor’s degree and two years to work through a masters. For more advanced students interested in full immersion (i.e. handling school administration in Arabic), University of Jordan and Cairo University offer Arabic Language and Literature degrees catered toward native speakers.

If you prefer to stay closer to home, take advantage of highly-ranked Arabic programs in the U.S. and UK, including Middlebury College, Georgetown University, University of London (SOAS), and University of Westminster London. These programs are known for their rigorous curriculum and experienced international faculty, though tuition and cost of living at these campuses may put a damper on your wallet. Leiden University in the Netherlands and University of Melbourne in Australia likewise offer strong Arabic undergraduate Arabic programs catered to English speakers.

Most serious Arabic degree programs will want you to have at least some background in the language. A short-term summer program, travel in the Arab region, or a Lebanese aunty who calls you habibi will usually do the trick. Learning another foreign language and using it on a daily basis will also earn you some brownie points in the admissions process. But if language learning and international travel are completely new to you, never fear! When applying to Arabic degree programs abroad, the most critical traits are a commitment to learning Arabic and a willingness to embrace new cultures and ways of seeing the world.

Benefits & Challenges

Naturally, getting a degree in Arabic is not all hummus and rainbows. Learning a foreign language can be sa’ib jidan (really hard), especially when you go all in with the immersion route abroad. When your brain feels like mush after a full day of classes, you’ll still need to navigate a new city and foreign tongue as you make your way home to tackle that pile of wajib (homework).

You’ll also be faced with the dubious dialect challenge that all Arabic learners face. Arabic dialects are notoriously nearly incomprehensible to one another, and a polite “Salam, labas?” (Moroccan Arabic greeting) will only get you confused stares in Egypt, the Gulf, or the Levant.

On the other hand, completing a degree abroad in an Arabic-speaking country (almost) ensures the ability to communicate in at least one Arabic dialect, especially if you hit the Arabic graduate programs level. And, of course, turning the tassel on your Arabic major is also fun and fulfilling. Sticking around long enough to earn a degree will offer a deeper and more nuanced perspective of a foreign country and tongue than shorter programs. If you’re going to earn a degree in Arabic, it’s worth experiencing first-hand the diverse countries where you’ll insha’allah be able to communicate at the end of it all.

Yallah! With settings ranging from the urban glamor of the Dubai to laid-back beach towns along the Mediterranean coast, there’s an idyllic setting for every style of Arabic learner. Check your inhibitions at the door and take on the challenge of an Arabic degree at an international university!

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A Guide To
Arabic Language Schools Abroad

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