I've always believed that traveling abroad and to allow yourself to become immersed in different cultures, environments and ways of life is the single most important thing you can do to promote growth and development within you. I was particularly attracted to coming to Cairo mostly because of my passion for the Middle East and the Arabic language. In addition, though, Egypt is arguably the cultural centre of the Arabic speaking world, and has maintained a long and significant role throughout its rich history dating all the way back to the times of the Pharaohs up to the modern day.
Why did you choose Arabeya Language Center?
So after being set on the Middle East because of my studies and interests, it was a question of deciding where. I'd studied Arabic at University but had not had the opportunity to study any of the dialects in depth, so I decided that because of Egypt's importance and widespread media, it would be best to move to Cairo and learn Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. There are a number of good centres here, but Arabeya was the only institution that offered the Fellowship program. This turned out to be a great opportunity for me to not only carry on learning Arabic and become almost fluent in under 6 months (compared to 4 years at university!), but to also gain valuable life experience living and working in an almost completely Arabic speaking environment.
What was your favorite part Egypt?
I have grown really fond of the Egyptian people. I have lived in other Arab countries before so I know all Arab hospitality, but it's their sense of humour I can't get over. They are light-hearted, easy-going people who don't take anything too seriously and are always ready to laugh and joke around. They are deeply humble, kind and helpful.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Living long-term in the accommodation at Arabeya meant that I got to meet many people from different backgrounds with varied interests as well as getting to know well the locals who lived in my neighbourhood. I've met people who have had a profound effect on the perspectives I take on many things and I am very grateful for that. It did also give a ground-level view of what had up until my move, been a theoretical and broad understanding of the region gained at University, deepening my interest in the Arab world even further.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The teachers I have had at Arabeya have been wonderful and staff at the school would always be happy to make plans to visit places around Cairo. I have been taken out to eat Fetir and Kushari, shown round Zamalek and shown how to take a microbus! As for the program itself, I was able to easily tailor the classes, switching between dialect and Standard sometimes on short notice, in order to personalise my lessons according to my developing interests and needs.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had studied harder and spoken more to locals! Language is learned through constant exposure and hard work and I think I could have taken more time concentrating on my studies and being a little more adventurous.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
As a Fellow, I had a somewhat different experience from most. I would be expected to be at school everyday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then this time would be shared out between working hours and study hours. At lunch time all the employees and students would sit in the garden together to eat and drink tea, and thanks to the fact that the accommodation was so near to the centre, at the end of the day I would be home in five minutes on foot.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Other students from the school and I would often take trips out of Cairo to Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea or Alexandria on the Mediterranean, to escape the chaos of the city. That said it was very easy to find adventures within Cairo itself. Souq al-Jumaa was a favourite of ours – a market where you could buy anything from monkeys and snakes, to radios and broken iPhone screens. We would go there on a Friday to dig through the mountains of second hand clothes, or munch on incredible street food. Smells, sounds and sights completely overwhelmed my senses as I would weave through the narrow crowded streets of this famous market.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best it?
The accommodation had everything it needed, like a desk, a fully furnished kitchen, a bathroom and a shared bedroom. Its proximity to the school was a great advantage, and it was kept clean by the school’s cleaners twice weekly. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet and get to know other students from the school.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
The classes can be really fast paced!
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
My Arabic has improved tenfold, especially my Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, which is now my main tool for conversing. I have fallen in love with Cairo and I am now seriously considering living here in the future, whether temporarily or for a longer period of time.
Would you recommend Arabeya Language Course to others? Why?
Yes of course, Arabeya has been really good to me. One aspect that especially struck me was how flexible the school was. The administration staff was always ready to help with any missed classes or re-scheduling issues, and most importantly, it was the flexibility shown by the teachers that impressed me. They were open to talk and discuss anything in class, would organize engaging classes for me to really get my teeth stuck into and always allowed me to edge the classes in the direction I was in most need of or most interested in.
Peter Liddiard is a graduate of Arabic and Linguistics from the United Kingdom. With a passion for the Arab world and the Arabic language, he has traveled to and lived in various Arabic-speaking countries, including Egypt, Morocco, and the West Bank, and all of the places have given him an important ground-level perspective on the region that would have been impossible to gain otherwise.