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History Students Granted Federal Funding Studying Arabic

Three UCSB graduate students recently received U.S. State Dept. Critical Language Scholarships and will study Arabic in intensive programs in North Africa this summer.

Andrew Magnusson and Eric Massey, doctoral candidates in the history department, have been assigned to study in Morocco while global and international studies doctoral candidate Jayne Lee will study in Egypt. The students are three of 575 graduate and undergraduate students who were chosen from a pool of 5,300 applicants.

Magnusson said the CLS application required two letters of recommendation, academic transcripts, a list of all Arabic courses completed and several essays.

“Once we got accepted, the State Department mailed us a written timed test that we had to complete and send back to them and then we had a phone interview to assess our level of Arabic,” Magnusson said. “The phone interview in Arabic was the most stressful part.”

According to the CLS Web site, “The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical need foreign languages.”

Dwight Reynolds, the director of the UCSB Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said that the number of students interested in Arabic dramatically increased after 9/11. Approximately 120 students are currently enrolled in Arabic language classes at UCSB. However, due to the current budget crisis, the program has yet to see much expansion.

“Our Arabic enrollments have continued to grow, but our first-year Arabic class has now been capped at 80 students because there is not funding for additional TAs,” Reynolds said. “The past two years we have turned away dozens of students who tried to enroll in first-year Arabic.”

Although Arabic is the primary language in the Middle East, UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSB are the only UC campuses to offer Arabic language classes.
Magnusson said studying Arabic is key to improving global communication and fostering intercultural unity.

“The Middle East has a fascinating history that people who don’t know Arabic can never fully appreciate,” Magnusson said. “There are a lot of misunderstandings between Arabs and Americans — on both sides.  Maybe if more people studied Arabic, we could correct them.”

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