Bringing Middle Eastern and North African culture to northwestern Pennsylvania is no small feat. The students of the Arabic/Middle East and North Africa House in North Village I, however, are doing just that.
The Arabic/MENA house is unique from the other special interest houses in the Max Kade International Wing in that residents are not required to partake in language immersion.
“It’s more of an effort to appreciate Middle East and North Africa,” said Milton Guevara, ’18, who currently lives in the Arabic/MENA House. “We talk about politics and culture in the MENA region.”
Guevara said it was his personal experience with these regions that motivated him to apply to live in the house.
“I wanted to live in the MENA house because I had the opportunity to travel to Turkey on an [Experiential Learning Seminar], and Morocco on a semester abroad, and I wanted to be around like-minded students who had an interest in Middle East and North Africa,” Guevara said.
Sarah Shapley, ’20, echoed Guevara’s desire to be around like-minded students when explaining why she chose to apply to live in the house.
“I was like, it would be really cool if I could live there and be around other students who you know are learning Arabic or know about like the MENA region or know about that type of stuff,” Shapley said.
This appreciation for culture inspired an event during the fall semester centered around immigration hosted by the students of the MENA house. Pizza was available as the students came to a deeper understanding of an issue relevant to their own interests.
“One event that we had was that we invited Professor Henceroth to give a talk at our house about migration in Europe, since the migration crisis tends to heavily involve the Middle East and North Africa,” Guevara said of the event, which included Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Nathan Henceroth.
Events like these allow for extracurricular exploration in MENA studies at Allegheny College, where students are eager to learn, said Narmeen Salama, an Arabic teaching assistant.
“What’s interesting is that students are really interested in the program, they really like it, and you can tell that some of them — let’s not say all of them — really want to learn a new language and want to get to know it in order to travel around and get to know the culture more,” Salama said.
Assistant Professor of Arabic Reem Hilal also commented on the students’ genuine desire to learn about the region — a region that, for most of them, is drastically different from their own. Hilal said the eventual goal is for the Arabic/MENA house to further capitalize on this interest by providing students with a language immersion experience in Arabic.
“Usually the idea is to either encourage students to have that study abroad experience where they’re forced to use the language that they’ve been studying or to try to create that kind of situation in this kind of language house experience,” Hilal said
Shapley said she and another Arabic/MENA house resident, a classmate from her Arabic course this semester, have already started attempting to use Arabic on a regular basis. For now, she said she is enjoying the many experiences and interests she and her housemates have in common.
“A lot of them are taking similar classes or have taken the classes I’ve taken,” Shapley said. “So that’s been really nice to go and talk about that, especially when I’m writing a paper and I’m like, oh, this was really cool, and then this relates to that.”
Guevara said his favorite thing about the Arabic/MENA house is simple.
“I appreciate that my housemates are engaged, and I appreciate that they’re interesting people and good to live with,” Guevara said.