Rasa’il, Connecting American and Moroccans through Letters
Nicholas Mickinski, Sidney Tolo, Julianna Renzi, Jane McDermott, and Samee Sulaiman (CLS 2014 Arabic) met while studying in Tangier on CLS together. After returning, they decided they wanted to use their knowledge of Arabic and passion for language learning and cultural exchange. They realized the ideal way of doing this would be to organize a pen-pal program connecting American high school students studying Arabic with Moroccan high schoolers, improving the students’ language skills and cultural competence. This project would also address their regret for not having had more direct contact with Arabic speakers and cultures early in the process of learning Arabic and their concern that this was a common occurance.
Entitled Rasa’il, Arabic for letters or messages, the project paired 60 American students from five schools with 60 Moroccan students from a high school in Tangier. In addition to correspondence between pen-pals by email and Skype, the students participated in themed discussions led by their teachers as well as a photo contest. All written correspondence was in both Arabic and English, so that pen-pals could improve their language skills while also making sure communication was as clear as possible. Participants were encouraged to write about topics they were familiar with in their target language, such as food, music, film, other hobbies, and family and friends. Additionally, the Moroccan partner school, Abdellah Echefchaouni High School, received more English dictionaries to expand their English library.
The students were also able to participate in various cultural activities through Rasa’il. The Moroccan high school students visited the museum of the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. The museum contains a variety of Moroccan artifacts and documents on Moroccan history as well as documents on the history of American-Moroccan political and cultural relations. American participants engaged with several aspects of Moroccan and Arab culture, including food, dance, and calligraphy.
The Alumni Development Fund in 2014 awarded funding to 65 alumni from the 2014 cohort who submitted proposals for activities to assist with their continued language learning and/or professional academic development. Priority was given to applications that incorporated or explained how their activity would have a wider impact on others (e.g. students, CLS alumni, community).
2014 ADF projects covered a wide scope of topics and activities. Some projects focused on improving the awardee’s CLS language skills in order to indirectly affect the public through the creation of language materials, improving one’s effectiveness at their workplace, and sharing their research and CLS experience at national conferences. Other projects directly impacted others, for example through the creation of an international pen-pal exchange, language tables at universities, and community events highlighting their host languages and cultures.