Reloading my laptop in late April with my stomach knotted in nerves, I anxiously awaited the NSLI-Y scholarship results. I had applied in October, and since then, almost every waking thought was consumed by the NSLI-Y scholarship result. Then in April, an NSLI-Y applicant group chat buzzed my phone – results were out! I clicked on my mail app and painfully waited. To my dismay, I didn’t see an email and immediately panicked, but to my relief, a few minutes later, there it was – the glorious acceptance letter to the NSLI-Y Arabic Scholarship program.
More info here: www.nsliy.com
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, what would usually be an immersive summer spent learning about Moroccan culture and the Arabic language while in Morocco, would have to be virtual; however, I wasn’t complaining in the slightest. I was just content to have the opportunity, virtual or not. The summer looked like this: daily 2 hours Arabic class with my seven-person cohort and two teachers, bi-weekly cultural lessons, weekly language partner meetings, and bi-monthly lessons with Tunisian students. We also were able to have discussions with essential people in Morocco and the U.S: a political analyst, the educational board of Morocco, Amanzight tribe members, and the U.S ambassador to Morocco were amongst the guest speakers.
Earlier than a Masjid’s call to prayer, I awoke early each morning to finish Arabic homework. I traced through the letters, dotting the letter ب ‘b’ or curving upwards in a letter ف ‘f.’ As the weeks progressed, my letters wrote with fluidity and spilled out onto my notebook. My language partner, Hanane, became my leeway into Moroccan culture. During our sessions, she taught me about guest culture, the educational system in grade school, Eid Al Adha – an important Islamic holiday, and so many other topics that piqued my interest. My cohort peers and I occasionally studied together, attended cooking class, and used our group chat to chat about our love for our teachers and our frustration over homework. While the idea of virtual learning is less attractive than an immersive in-person in Morocco, due to the circumstances, the NSLI-Y Arabic summer surpassed my imagination.
The Arabic language is remarkably beautiful. With the new words I accumulate, I feel satisfaction and fulfillment. Each week with my language partner, I counted my success with the latest conversations and the new sentences I formed. While happiness and accomplishment were amongst my feelings towards learning Arabic, frustration was also apparent. Arabic is a complex language, and sometimes, I would need to remind myself that over and over again. Repeating myself to my teacher ten times so that she could understand my faulty pronunciation, reciting essential dialogues in my bathroom mirror, or calling my language partner daily for help with my accent, were occurrences that left me disappointed and unmotivated. However, each language partner session, Hanane constantly repeated, “جميل جدا ، كايتلين“ (very lovely, Kaitlyn) and I forgot all frustration and just felt proud of my success.