The United States Department of State has awarded two UCSB students with the 2013 Critical Language Scholarships for Intensive Summer Institutes, allowing them to both spend the summer in a prestigious foreign language program.

The recipients, fourth-year global studies and religious studies double major Nadim Houssain and ethnomusicology Ph.D. candidate Nicholas Ragheb, will both be studying Arabic during the program. The state-sponsored program will allow Houssain to travel to Amman, Jordan and will send Ragheb to Meknes, Morocco. The two UCSB students are among 610 scholarship recipients from over 200 institutions of higher education across the United States and Puerto Rico, and they were selected from a pool of nearly 5,000 applicants.

The Critical Language Scholarship is administered by the Council of American Overseas Research and the American Councils for International Education, which are both entities within the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This departmental bureau supports over 40,000 academic and professional exchange program participants and offers these opportunities as a means of fostering mutual understanding and respect between U.S. citizens and people of other countries.

Houssain said he plans to explore both the linguistic and cultural customs of Jordan and hopes to build relations with the people there.

“I hope to gain a better understanding of the language, both speaking and writing, as well as a better grasp of Middle Eastern culture,” Houssain said. “Most of all, I am looking forward to getting to know the other participants and sharing that passion for language and culture with them as well as getting to know the indigenous population.”

Houssain will stay with a host family while studying at Amideast in order to become completely immersed in the language and fully experience the culture.

While not many people in the U.S. know how to speak Arabic, according to Houssain, the language is a politically crucial language to learn due to the U.S. government’s current connections with the Middle East.

“It is ironic that we are so involved in the Middle East, yet we don’t know the language very well,” Houssain said. “A key to understanding a different culture is understanding their language.”

Meanwhile, Ragheb will study at the Arab American Language Institute, where he said he plans to write his dissertation on Egyptian Coptic music.

As the dissertation requires proficient knowledge of both Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, Ragheb said he hopes to improve his skills in the language extensively. He said that he also plans to take advantage of the social and cultural experiences that await him in Morocco.

“I am a music researcher and musician, so I am hoping to catch some good live music either in Meknes or in Rabat nearby,” Ragheb said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to improve my Modern Standard Arabic and hopefully gain some experiences and connections with new and interesting people.”


A version of this article appeared on page 5 of the May 16th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.