This shall be part 4 of the Egypt vs Morocco series, but version 4.2 as this is the second part of Middle East study abroad! Today I will review the two Middle East study abroad programs I participated in: ALIN at the American University of Cairo in Egypt and being a transient student at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. I know Morocco is actually North Africa, but since it is part of the Arab world and the whole region is usually called “Middle East,” I have used that noun once more so the right visitors flock into this page *wink* Both Arab study abroad programs have starkly different offerings, so which is better to a student depends on individual goals and expectations. To me, the most important aspect was to improve my Arabic as quickly as possible, so through, clear Arabic professors and intensive Arabic exercises were key. With that in mind, let’s begin the assessments!
I was a student at the American University in Cairo’s Intensive Arabic Program (ALIN) for the full 2008-2009 academic year. I chose ALIN among other Middle East study abroad programs for several reasons. First, it has an outstanding reputation and its curriculum met my expectations as a prospective student. Second, it is accredited by both Egyptian and American associations, has 80 years of experience, and its intensive courses offer twenty hours of lessons per week, in addition to twenty hours of home assignments. Third, thirty percent of class time is dedicated to Egyptian colloquial and tuition costs include extracurricular activities and side trips across the country, facilitating interaction with the locals. For these reasons, ALIN helped me attain a great level of immersion and proficiency in Arabic in a short period of time. Just so you have an idea: My Arabic went from zero to intermediate-low, as tested by the federal government, in just 2 semesters in both written and spoken Arabic! That was a great accomplishment, especially considering how I didn’t study the extra 5 hours that my professors recommended daily outside the classroom. Still, I think my bargaining and little metro chats helped
In terms of facilities, AUC was above other programs I looked at tremendously. The facilities and technology competed easily with those found in Western universities. Comprehensive medical insurance was offered and a clinic serviced students, with free prescriptions and an eight percent discount in medications at El Mounir or Hani Pharmacies in downtown Cairo. A variety of new eating establishments were available to suit Western and Eastern tastes. A little bit overpriced, but if you veered away from the McDonalds you could find some deals at, say, Al Omda (the Egyptian stand offering falafel sandwiches and even kushari!).
While the distance of the new AUC campus (in Katameya, middle of the desert) kind of sucked, it actually made us students focus on our studies in-between classes, instead of being distracted with chaotic Cairo outside. What I did was rent an apartment 5 minutes from Tahrir square and take the AUC bus each morning and afternoon (one hour ride each way). I even got to study and meet several other Egyptian students there, which was a bonus =)
Initially, another feature that attracted me about the ALIN program is that it is part of an American university. Not only was the transfer of credits smoother, but I was familiarized with the educational system. Additionally, there was a greater chance for me to meet other students from Western countries. I must admit, it was pleasant to know that I was able to share my experiences with other people that were going through the same process. The fact this was my very first time outside “the West” (USA or Europe) was quite comforting. Now though, with my extensive experiences, I would probably prefer a different type of institution, but in terms of academics, ALIN was so superb that I would probably end up choosing it again anyway! It is quite intense academically, so will only fit serious students. Those who prefer a more “laid-back” program and experience should enroll as study abroad students instead, looking at the curriculum offered to all AUC (Egyptian) students. This would allow you to take less-intensive Arabic courses, in addition to humanities and even business classes alongside other international and Arab students.
My Experience at Al Akhawayn University (AUI), though, was starkly different! First off, AUI’s campus is located on a very small town (Ifrane), in contrast to AUC being so close to one of the most populous cities in the world. This made my daily life rather different, as at AUI I felt more confined because the most exciting things to do were on the campus, as Ifrane is a sleepy town. While there were a few clubs and bars, that was about it. They got old fast. You could travel about one hour to the historical city of Fes, but it is not like you could “party” there as easily (and as much) as you could in Cairo. In other words, you won’t get a feel of “Moroccan cosmopolitan city” if you go to AUI, while you could definitely get that by going to AUC instead. Could be a pro or con depending on the person, so that’s why I’m being descriptive! To me, Ifrane was quaint and nice in the beginning, but there are so many times you can go to Ifrane’s bars and visit Fes, you know? So I found myself taking several road trips around Morocco and splitting the rental car costs with some West Point friends I made at AUI (which was not bad!)
In terms of facilities, AUI is rather small. I liked the fact that the size of the campus was similar to my home university’s, so that was a plus. However, the technology and facilities were not even close to AUC’s. Funding is key to this difference, so you get the point. Want a bigger, more technologically advanced campus? AUC in Egypt. Want a quaint, medium-sized campus with small hometown feel? Choose AUI in Morocco.
In terms of academics, I feel AUI had nothing to offer to Arabic students. I heard they host an intensive Arabic program in the summer, but not during the regular school year. Sad, because I felt my Arabic barely improved even though I was taking 4 credits (Intermediate Arabic 2). Add to that the fact that my teacher barely spoke English, so grammatical differences and essential questions in regard to structure, meaning, etc. were completely lost in (scarce) translation. Basically, I felt I was on my own trying to figure out Al-Kitab 2. So, if you are a serious Arabic student, do not choose AUI for fall or spring semesters. Instead, go to AUC where even if you do not enroll in ALIN, you can still take up to 6 credits of Arabic courses in addition to a few business or humanities courses. This way, you will get less credits, but the same rigorous, excellent Arabic professors and lessons while still enrolling in courses that relate to your business or Pol.Sci majors (to give some examples).
I must say, though, that the World Religions class I took at AUI has been one of the best classes I have ever taken. Our professor was Portuguese, first name Jacques I believe, and he was amazing. Also, the professor I had for Islamic Civilization class was so knowledgeable. It was so great to see a devout Muslim teach about Islam from a scholarly, merely-historical point of view, discussing even several controversial issues with the religion that made Moroccan students stand on their toes in anger several times. All that said, however, you could find such experiences and professors in any superior university or institution worldwide, if lucky, so it really does not add much value to your Arab aka Middle East study abroad experience when it comes down to it.
In conclusion, if you are a serious Arabic student or at least wish to advance in your Arabic studies while still having a coursework related to your major, American University in Cairo (AUC) is for you. The caliber of the professors and the Arabic program is truly unmatched, and I’m speaking from experience here. In contrast, if you prefer the small town feel, less rigorous coursework and do not really care much about becoming proficient in Arabic, Al Akhawayn University (AUI) can still deliver a good study abroad experience, as you could enroll in all kinds of courses in several areas of study with actual Moroccans, still living in their country, and interact with them while learning about their culture and behavior–inside and outside the classroom as well!
That’s all fro today folks! I really hope you find this Middle East study abroad programs review helpful and that it serves as an asset as you decide to partake in such an amazing, life-changing experience!