My time in Halle and with the Excellence Center was a truly unique and enriching experience. I spent five weeks in Halle and those same five weeks studying Arabic at the Center. Prior to studying in Germany, I had five semesters of Arabic instruction as an undergraduate student and no experience whatsoever with German. I had completed a short study abroad program before in Amman, Jordan for a month in 2019, which was my only previous international academic experience with which to build my expectations for Halle. Armed with a little Arabic, no German, and a strong dose of curiosity, I came to the Center in the summer of 2021. My experience was divided across four major facets: academic, linguistic, cultural, and relational. I would like to address them all in turn.
Academically, my program at the Excellence Center was the most rigorous Arabic program I have ever partaken, and it was more than worth it. Fifteen hours per week of one-on-one instruction with a native Arabic speaker was incredibly beneficial for my ability and confidence listening to and understanding the language. Not sharing any language fully with my instructor made understanding some of the more intricate grammar topics difficult. However, having an instructor who could not use English as a crutch forced us both to use much more Arabic. I felt as though I knew just enough Arabic to benefit from having an instructor who spoke essentially in nothing but Arabic. It was particularly difficult for the first week as I got more comfortable and as my instructor learned what I did and did not know. Once we became more experienced communicating, our lessons became much smoother and more effective. In the end, I would not have wanted it any other way. Using English in the classroom would have made it a lesser experience. Also, at the center Rafat created an incredibly welcoming environment that placed an obvious emphasis on student well-being and comfort as the foundation for learning well. I always felt welcome, supported, and appreciated at the Center.
Linguistically, of course, I learned quite a bit of Arabic. Outside of the classroom and out in town, however, I found myself with another challenge. Halle’s history and economic profile have together made English far more rare to find than in other German cities. While I was able to enjoy the city fully while in Halle, I had to be very observant and willing to struggle against the language barrier as I became more comfortable. Though I had not anticipated such a language barrier with local Germans as English can be common in other areas, it all got better with time.
Culturally, I found myself at the crossroads of different worlds. At the Center I found myself surrounded by other American students, my Palestinian/Syrian refugee instructor, Rafat as a Palestinian, a Moroccan student who lives in Spain, and a British language teacher. Of course, all of these worlds were colliding in a surrounding German culture, adding another layer to the mix. It was eye-opening and fascinating to learn about each person’s story, their passions, their struggles, and their aspirations for the future. I have always believed in travel as a medium for personal growth, and my experiences in the Excellence Center only confirmed and strengthened my belief in the value of engaging with people from different parts of the world.
Relationally, I made several great new friends with backgrounds quite different from my own, as I discussed above. The relationships I made highlighted the reality that the only divisions between peoples are those we choose to create. Nationality, language, socioeconomics, religion, and all other reasons for resentment or prejudices are merely manifestations of ignorance and impatience. For example, one of the most remarkable examples of hospitality and kindness I experienced in Halle was from my host. He was of a similar age and had immigrated from Syria. We shared little culturally, including only just enough English to communicate, but he made me feel very welcome as I shared his apartment with him. That experience, just like the rest of my time in Halle, demonstrated that any divisions we create as people ignore our shared basic humanity.
Studying in Halle at the Excellence Center is not for those looking to remain within their comfort zone. The Excellence Center and the surrounding city are those looking to learn, to grow, and to experience the new.