On further reflection, though, I've come to realize that my teaching assignment, light as it is, is still a challenge, for both my students and me. There's nothing like an intensive three-hour discussion-oriented format to make a person remember that linguistic and cultural differences are real. For starters, the course, like all the courses in the graduate American Studies program, are taught in English. This is obviously a huge boon for me, since I don't speak Arabic (though I am definitely putting in some real time in and out of class trying to learn it) but it is a huge burden on my students, who must not only communicate during class time, but also complete all their assigned readings and papers. On my end, all the professors, administrators and staff I have worked with are fluent in English, and graciously don't make a big deal of the fact that I can't join in the small talk of the department. But the actual documents of the program, including things like the roll sheet for the class, are in Arabic, and so the secretaries very kindly transliterated the students' names for me, or I wouldn't have been able to see who was who in our first class meeting.
|We all agree that my office is a much better place to hold class -- among other things, the chairs are more comfortable.|
|Here are Eman and Israa...|
|....and here are Rana and Rola. When I told them about the poli sci blog they all agreed to be photographed, though they did suggest in the future a bit of advanced warning would be nice.|
These differences in values translate into differences in the way we see social problem. For example in discussions and a writing assignment my students wondered if perhaps the disintegration of the American traditional family and the large amounts of liberty we Americans take for granted are factors in the alcohol and drug use and violence that they pointed out as some of our social problems. (Two others that were often listed were racial inequality and gender discrimination -- which I had not predicted as topping the list.)
So far we've had a very values-focused discussion, looking at the way that Americans view equity, security, efficiency and liberty. We've also done some review of American history and next week will do the same with American political institutions. After that we dig into three social problems areas: health care; racial and income inequality; and criminal justice. We'll end with students presenting their research on their own choice of an American social problem. I'm lucky that I have a class that's very forgiving of my inability to speak Arabic and lack of cultural knowledge about everyday things they take for granted. I'm learning a lot from them, and hope they feel the same way about me and the class. Should be a fascinating semester!