Students savor taste of Moroccan culture

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
March 13, 2008

GUILFORD — Students in Radouane Nasry’s Arabic classes are back to the routine of school and homework, but recently some of them were visiting one of the largest mosques in the world and riding camels on the beach.

Nasry took about a dozen students of French and Arabic to Morocco, his native country, during February break. They visited Casablanca, the “imperial cities” of Rabat, Marrakech and Fez, and the beachside resort Essaouira.

The trip was the suggestion of a student who went to Egypt with Nasry and other students last year. When the time came to plan another visit this year, senior Lindsay Rohr suggested Morocco.

“I really wanted to go, and it’s hard to use the Arabic around here,” Rohr, 18, said. “It’s really hard to get practice.”

Because Moroccans speak Arabic and French, the trip was open to students of both languages. One of the high school’s French teachers and her husband also acted as chaperones.

Nasry said he was somewhat wary about taking students to his home country, which he last visited in 2004. As it turned out, one of the first stops was at Nasry’s mother’s house in Casablanca, where she prepared them a meal of couscous.

“I have not been a tourist in my country,” he said. “I did not know how they were going to react, and they handled things wonderfully.”

Both trips were planned through the school’s Arabic Club, and did not have official school sponsorship. Nasry worked with student travel company EF Educational Tours to plan the itinerary. The trip cost about $2,500 each.

One of the benefits of the visit, he said, was exposing the students to a Muslim country and culture with which they were not familiar.

“(It’s) having things that would open the mind of these kids,” Nasry said. “They need sometimes to get out of these walls.”

Guilford High School was the only public school in the state to offer Arabic when Nasry, who also teaches French, started one class three years ago. Now, he leads two first-year and one second-year Arabic classes, as well as independent study for the students who have been learning the language since the first year.

The elective class has been very popular so far. In its first year, 44 students signed up for one section, which had to be limited to about 30.

“It’s a really good opportunity to get something that you really can’t do in a lot of other places,” sophomore Greg Demitrack said. “Plus, the teacher is awesome.”

Senior Zach Bosson said he wants to pursue a career in international relations and is interested in colleges that have strong Arabic programs. He is enrolled in Nasry’s second-year class and also does independent study in third-year Arabic.

“I’m applying to schools specifically to take Arabic and specifically to use it as a job,” he said. “There’s not a lot of even colleges that have majors in Arabic.”

Sharon Jakubson, chairwoman of the high school’s world languages department, said Arabic is one of the languages designated as “critical” by the U.S. State Department.

“There’s a huge cry for people to be fluent in Arabic now, and colleges have been rushing to it as well as high schools,” Jakubson said. “I think that it’s important for a community like Guilford to offer something like Arabic because we have no diversity and our exposure to nonwestern cultures is so limited.”

Arabic is still Guilford High School’s smallest language program. The school also offers Spanish, French and Latin. Other foreign language students also take trips over February and April break, Jakubson said, but those vacations are also individually arranged and not school-sponsored.

Those who went on the trip said they ended up speaking a mix of French, English and Arabic while in Morocco, which was formerly a French protectorate.

“I think more French was spoken on a conversational basis,” Demitrack said.

The students described the people they met as friendly, and they did not experience much anti-American sentiment.

“One guy asked us if we supported Bush very aggressively,” Bosson said. “I had to tell him in French, ‘No, I don’t like Bush.’”

All of the students said that they enjoyed their time in Essaouira, a city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, the most. There, they rode dromedaries — or one-humped camels — along the shoreline.

“Of all the cities we went to, Essaouira was probably the most calm; it wasn’t as crowded,” senior Bart Weber said.

And in class last week, the students had one question for Nasry: “Where are we going next year?”

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