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Middle Eastern Studies Partners with Houston Palestine Film Festival for Two Arabic Film Screenings

April 24, 2018

This spring, Middle Eastern Studies partnered with the Houston Palestine Film Festival to host two public film screening events on UH campus in the month of April. The first event, on Friday, April 6th was a screening of several short documentary films all directed and produced by Palestinian University Students from the West Bank and Jerusalem. After the screening, two of the directors called in live to the auditorium via Skype for a Q&A and discussion with the audience.

The second event, on Friday, April 20, was the Houston premiere of Sheikh Jackson, a new Egyptian film by director Amr Salama. The film tells the story of an Islamic Cleric who has a midlife crisis of faith when her learns that his childhood idol Michael Jackson has died.

For a full list of past films screened in Middle Eastern Studies, please click here.

MESP students awarded Critical Language Scholarship for Arabic

March 29, 2018

UH Middle Eastern Studies congratulates Saman Essa (Class of 2019), and Yusuf Bavi (Class of 2018) who have each been awarded the Critical Language Scholarship for Arabic for summer 2018. The Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) is a nationally competitive, summer language immersion program fully funded by the US Department of State. Each year, the program reviews thousands of applications in the 14 critical languages from students hailing from a diverse range of community colleges, undergraduate institutions, and graduate programs across the US. Only around 550 scholarships total are awarded annually to a select group of applicants based on their academic excellence and outstanding dedication to mastering a critical language. This summer, Saman and Yusuf will be among them.

Saman Essa will join a small cohort of fellow CLS winners for Arabic in Ibri, Oman, where she will live and study Arabic in an intensive setting through the summer. Saman is a third year student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Arab Studies, and is working to become fluent in Arabic to help address the mental health needs of refugees from the Middle East.

Yusuf Bavi will join a group of fellow CLS winners in Meknes, Morocco for intensive summer Arabic study. Yusuf is a fourth year student double majoring in Political Science and History, along with a minor in Arab Studies. After graduation this spring he plans to attend law school and pursue further study of Arabic at the graduate level.

Saman and Yusuf are the first University of Houston students to be awarded the CLS for Arabic since the program's inception in 2006. Their fine work is a milestone for UH. Congratulations, Saman and Yusuf!

Middle Eastern Studies Students Attend International Model Arab League Competition in Cairo, Egypt

Saman Essa (front row second from left),
Nour Haikal (front row fourth from left),
and Hina Uddin (front row fifth from left)

Middle Eastern Studies congratulates students Saman Essa, Hina Uddin, and Nour Haikal who attended the ten day International Model Arab League competition held in Cairo, Egypt, this past November, where they represented the University of Houston. Their participation in the international competition was a culmination of the several months they spent prior researching, crafting, and preparing to present legislation proposals on issues of political, economic, and cultural importance affecting the contemporary Arab world.

Ms. Uddin riding a camel

Photos provided by MESP students: Saman Essa, Hina Uddin, and Nour Haikal.

UH Arabic student Hina Uddin completes intensive summer Arabic study in Morocco.

For more information about how you too can participate, see our Learning Abroad page!

Summer Arabic Study at the Arab-American Language Institute, Morocco Hina Uddin - summer 2017


Before studying abroad I thought Arabic was an impossible language to learn. Immersion learning allowed me to gain language skills that I would have never believed possible. The Arab-American Language Institute in Morocco gave me insight on language and culture and changed my entire perspective on my undergraduate education in just a summer. As a finance student with 2 minors, I did not have time in my schedule to fit language classes. However, after studying abroad, I realized my passion for the Arabic lang uage and am now enrolled to continue my Arabic studies at UH in the Fall. Studying abroad truly shaped my undergraduate experience.

Ms. Uddin riding a camel
Ms. Uddin in front of Moroccan door

UH Arabic student Jeremy Brandt completes intensive summer Arabic study abroad at Sijal Institute in Amman, Jordan.

For more information about how you too can participate, see our Learning Abroad page!

Summer Arabic Study at Sijal Institute in Jordan
Jeremy Brandt - summer 2017

Jeremy Brandt

For Arabic students looking to immerse themselves in the Arab culture and the Shaami colloquial Arabic dialect, Sijal Institute is ideal. This school is small and laid back, so that I never felt like a stranger. The teachers are very qualified and passionate about student success. Unlike some similar schools, Sijal focuses on teaching the local dialect, so that I was not left in the dark while exploring Amman (even with only Beginner Arabic under my belt).

Amman, Jordan is a fantastic place to study Arabic. It is not extremely Westernized, which makes for an enlightening cultural encounter. Neither I nor any of my fellow students felt threatened while there. Sijal is situated on Rainbow Street, one of the liveliest areas in Amman.

With such an excellent learning environment and the addition of exciting excursions, my summer in Jordan was a blast and I am glad I took advantage of this opportunity. I am returning to Texas with a more nuanced understanding of Arab culture and greatly enhanced language skills.

Jeremy Brand dessert landscape

Middle Eastern Studies and Honors College Host
Sketches of the Syrian Diaspora, a Night of Music and Storytelling

On Wednesday, March 22 UH Middle Eastern Studies teamed up with the Honors College to host Sketches of the Syrian Diaspora. The event was an evening celebrating the culture of the Syrian refugee community in Houston, as well as raising awareness about the unique challenges refugees face. The Honors Commons, where the event was held, was bursting at the seams with students, faculty, and members of the community who came out to enjoy traditional Arabic music performances by Mohammed Sheik Horo, a local Syrian refugee musician who plays the Buzuq, and Michael Fares, Instructional Assistant Professor of Arabic who also plays the Oud. Among other presentations, the event also featured a reading by Dr. Kim Meyer of the Honors College, from her publication in Texas Monthly on the Syrian refugee community in Houston entitled Welcoming the Stranger, as well as poetry readings by three UH students who come from the families of refugees. Students also enjoyed traditional Arabic desserts and tea prepared especially for the event by Syrian refugee families across Houston.

Syrian film Little Gandhi and Q&A with director Sam Kadi


On Friday, December 2, 2016, The UH Middle Eastern Studies program hosted a public screening of the film Little Gandhi, which documents the story of Ghiyath Matar, an outspoken nonviolent activist who was instrumental in organizing the first peaceful protests against the Syrian government in 2011, and whose murder by the regime in the same year sparked international outrage.

Middle Eastern Studies teamed up with several co-sponsors to make the event a success, including the Syrian American Council, the UH Arabic Club, the Muslim Student Organization, and UH PAIR. Following the film was a moderated audience discussion with the director Sam Kadi, and Suzanne Meriden, national director of operations for the Syrian American Council.

For a full list of past films screened in Middle Eastern Studies, please click here

Students Return from Summer Arabic Study Abroad

This past summer, several UH Arabic attended one of the MESP faculty preferred Arabic study abroad programs in various Arabic speaking countries. A few of them share their experiences and what they learned below. For more information about how you too can participate, see our Learning Abroad page.

Summer Arabic Study in Lebanon

Marlena Grooms

I applied to the Arabic language intensive program held at the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon. The program was designed to help enhance one's Arabic skills whether it was beginning Arabic or superior Arabic. I was placed in Intermediate A Arabic, the third intermediate class out of four. There were over sixty students accepted into the CAMES program. On the weekends and some Fridays CAMES provided field trips in various areas of Lebanon. The places consisted of Harissa, Byblos, and al-Chouf. There we learned the history of each city and its people. CAMES also provided a guide for the tour and she spoke in Arabic the entire time unless the students were less advanced (beginner Arabic) she would speak half in English and half in Arabic.

Classes within the program were no bigger than ten students so the professors were very focused on giving each student enough attention in their problem areas. My weakest skill coming into the program was speaking/responding and listening comprehension. I struggled with this almost the entire program, but the professors force you to speak in Arabic in and outside of the classroom. Now that I am back at University of Houston I am very confident when I speak Arabic in class and outside of class at stores or restaurants within Houston. If a student wants to gain experience or learn more Arabic I highly suggest traveling abroad to this program. I however, do not recommend this program to beginner Arabic students as the program is too intense and may overwhelm the student, discouraging them from learning the language. Overall I had a great experience in Beirut and will return to the city to visit friends I made during the program. CAMES enhanced my Arabic skills immensely and I learned a lot about the culture during the program as well.

Studying Arabic in Oman

Marina Schneider

Over the summer I spent ten weeks in Muscat, Oman studying Arabic at The Center for International Learning (CIL). I chose CIL for its combination of rigorous study and flexibility. Students went to class four hours a day, five days a week. The rest of the time we were free to explore the city, study, etc. I would recommend studying abroad to any language student because being immersed in a culture challenges your preconceptions and brings about a more nuanced understanding of how a language is used in its native setting.

Summer in Jordan

Katherine Sackllah

The Jordan Language Academy is located in the busy 7th circle in Amman, Jordan with a staff that is truly the best. The teachers are young and energetic and super intelligent. The teaching method there is a full immersion, so Arabic has a constant presence in the classroom as well as outside. JLA offers different courses in Arabic, you are given the opportunity to learn about Media Arabic as well as the spoken Aameeyeh dialect in Jordan. Upon arrival you take an entrance test to see what classes your level fits best. You can choose from a month program to a three month program to a year program; they offer many different time frames to choose from, which is convenient. The prices for the program are also cheaper than other programs. As far as housing goes you can choose from rooming with another student in an apartment or a homestay. I lived with another student, but I had friends who did the homestay and they loved it. Looking back I wish I choose the homestay because it gives you a better opportunity to broaden your vocabulary in the spoken dialect. I was fortunate enough to have family there so my spoken Arabic grew immensely.

The people in Amman are very nice and welcoming. There is no issues concerning wars and terror in the country of Jordan so it was completely safe. I had the opportunity to travel all across the country as well as crossing the border over to Jerusalem and Palestine. Traveling between countries is not hard but can be pricey because you would have to fly. If you get the tickets in advance then tickets will be cheaper. Transportation in Jordan is taxi based and also really cheap. Uber is also a great option but more pricey. The city has a public transportation service but it is not well known. Jordan itself is a beautiful country. It’s filled with fields of lemon and olive trees as well as various regional fruits across hills. Driving through northern Amman in the cities of Al-Fuheis and Al-Salt, the views are purely breathtaking. The culture there is so rich and deep. I was lucky enough to be present during the 100th year celebration of the Great Arab Revolt. Experiencing the liveliness of the people and their pride for their country was fascinating.

Amman is not what you would imagine an Arab country to be. It isn’t 50 years behind with older building and ways of life, though in some places people are more traditional there is still very modern aspects and areas throughout the city. Whenever I got homesick I would go to the two story Starbucks across from Taj Mall in Abdun and felt like I was in America again. If you are thinking about studying abroad to gain language skills in Arabic I truly recommend you choosing Amman and the Jordan Language Academy. It is affordable, beautiful and they have a fantastic faculty. The experience you will have will be one to never forget.

Places I visited while abroad: various old cities in Jordan including: Jerash, Al-Fuheis, Al-Salt, as well as tourist areas such as Petra, the Dead Sea and Aqaba. I also had the opportunity to cross the border to Israel/Palestine. I stayed in Jerusalem and visited: the Old City of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Bayt Sahour, Bayt Jala, Ramallah and Mount Olives.