NSHE COUNTER Falafel stands in Fahad Sbeich are piled with sliced tomatoes, onions and pickled turnips dyed in pink. “Students love it,” he says. Mr. Sbeich’s food stalls are located in the Jabal Amman district of Amman, the capital of Jordan, and there are many Arabic schools. Before the pandemic, Sbeich estimates that half of the customers were foreigners and most were Western students.
Jordan has cornered the market with Arabic training in the region. Unlike many of its neighbors, it is relatively stable and peaceful. Its nickname, “Boring Hashemite Kingdom,” can turn off thrill-seekers. However, it attracted Western universities and grant programs, which largely stopped sending students to more volatile countries.
“Amman has become our greatest center,” says Pauline Coechette of the French Institute for the Near East.IFPO), I mainly teach European students. IFPO Previously there were centers in Aleppo and Damascus, but they were closed due to the civil war in Syria. There is still a center in Beirut, the unruly capital of Lebanon, but schools are increasingly worried about sending students there. “There are universities that tend to prefer Amman for security,” she says.
Oman and Morocco also provide stability, but Jordan has other advantages. Unlike Oman, Jordan at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula is in the center of the Arab world.And Morocco is still a popular destination, but its dialect is Dariya, Difficult to understand. Jordan, on the other hand, is close to modern standard Arabic, which is taught in most Western classrooms.
“I feel that Amman has a monopoly on Arabic students from the United States,” says Patrick, who learned Arabic with a grant from Boren, a language program funded by the US Department of Defense. Jordan is usually the second most popular destination for Boren grant recipients, after Taiwan. (Arabic and Mandarin are the languages that the program considers essential to national security.) Boren-sponsored students cannot be trained in countries where the Department of State has issued high-level travel recommendations. But even before that, the rule meant that almost all of Jordan’s neighbors were out of luck.
Jordan was particularly hit hard by the pandemic, which reduced the number of Arabic students traveling to the area. Katy Whiting of the Sijal Institute, an Arabic language school in Jabal Amman, states that more than 200 students are usually enrolled in Sijal during the summer. Currently, 30 people attend classes directly and another 30 are studying online.
The absence of students hurt an eerily quiet neighborhood like Jabal Amman. Muhammad Zuhar says his restaurant, Kumaje, near the popular Rainbow Street, has attracted a steady crowd of Western students. It’s almost empty now. Still, he is confident that the students will come back. “They want safety and security, and they want to practice Arabic with the locals,” he says. “Welcome to Jordan.” ■■
This article was published in the printed Middle East and Africa section under the heading “Being bored has its benefits”.
Why Jordan Leads in Arabic Training
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