Convenience Over Experience

by Phil Aubart | 10/8/07 10:31pm

I was very surprised to read the recent news article in The Dartmouth about the upcoming changes to the Arabic LSA+. ("Arabic dept. upgrades its foreign study prog.," Oct. 4). After experiencing the LSA + for myself this past summer, the last thing I expected was for it to be moved from Fez. I thought, "Why are they playing around with something that worked so well?" The Arabic department is sacrificing the true cultural experience of an incredible city like Fez for the ease and convenience of operating out of a big city like Tangiers.

Although our facilities in Fez were a little run-down and small, the opportunities gained by living in Fez far outweighed a cramped classroom. In fact, when I talked to some of the others on the trip about the announced changes, their general reaction was the same as mine: "No!" During the summer, we lived in Fez but were able to travel to Tangiers toward the end, and we stayed there for two and a half days. In that short time, most of us had experienced all that we had wanted to in Tangiers; after two months in Fez we were still exploring the city.

Fez is one of the oldest cities in Morocco and one of the most intact medieval cities in all of North Africa. There are two portions to the modern-day city of Fez: the colonial "new city" and the medieval "old city," or Medina. The Medina houses over a million residents while having only one road that you can drive cars on within the ancient city walls. A unique city, Fez sits on a special perch, directly between the crosswinds of modernization and ancient North African culture.

Tangiers is a port town that is quite modernized and under heavy Spanish influence. Its Medina has been destroyed. In the Medina of Fez you would be hard-pressed to find a building of European architecture; in Tangiers it would be harder to find one of Arab architecture. A large part of the study-abroad experience is the art, culture and tradition of a country, and Fez simply offers many more examples of these.

In addition, the atmosphere of Tangiers is less friendly and safe than that of Fez. The presence of alcohol is also much greater; while none of us drank in Fez, I think if alcohol had been more readily available more of us would have partaken, increasing potential for misfortune.

The D article describes the opportunity in Tangiers to live in a dormitory during the week and with a family on the weekends. While this would make it easier to enforce the proposed language pledge, it would greatly reduce the opportunities my trip gave me to travel, and it would also take away from the familial immersion experience. Students will take from the LSA+ and immersion experience what they put into it. It is worth it to provide the opportunity to travel and explore the country while risking pledge adherence.

The rationale that these changes stem from the use of colloquial Arabic with the families is ludicrous. Many of our families were able to converse in the Modern Standard tongue, and I was able to go home every night and converse with my host brothers in not colloquial but Modern Standard Arabic. Professor Jonathan Smolin of the Arabic department later says that "students would speak in a combination of standard and colloquial Arabic." Wait... I thought that was the problem. It's a great idea to make the program more advanced! However, the Dartmouth Arabic curriculum is based on a standard textbook; the location, facilities and teachers have little to do with the level of the program.

"Our facilities will just be fantastic," says Smolin. Yes, but will the experience? The logistics may be a little more difficult when operating in Fez, but no city in Morocco, especially one like Tangiers, could ever replace the experience. Fez captivated us with its culture, beauty and hidden treasures up until the very last day. Tangiers will be an experience of a lifetime for some, but I cannot help but bemoan the fact that they will miss out on Fez, which offers so much more.

Give the Arabic students the experience of the lifetime rather than simply an easily-administered academic program. Go the extra mile and bear the burden of the logistical difficulties associated with Fez for the students. I can only hope their experience will be as good as mine.