The classroom is not the only place at the University of Pennsylvania where a student can learn a language.
Gregory College Houseâs residential modern languages program offers five âlanguage housesâ where students can enjoy new cultural experiences and improve their language proficiency.
The offerings are Chinese, French, German, Spanish and Arabic. Residents may enroll in the program for a half-credit per semester; however, many take it just for fun.
Participants in âArabic Houseâ range from beginners to students whoâve taken the language in class.
About a dozen students gather in the Class of 1925 buildingâs greenhouse twice a week to have conversations in Arabic. The topics they cover include news events, politics, pop culture and life on campus. The group is led by Gregory House graduate associate Omar Al-Ghazzi, a native Arabic speaker.
âItâs an informal conversation that just flows,â says Al-Ghazzi.
The groupâs activities during the year also include watching Arabic movies and enjoying Middle Eastern food at Philadelphia restaurants, where they get to experience even more of the culture.
Jonathan Korn, a senior economics major in the School of Arts & Sciences from Miami, has been participating in Arab House since freshman year. He has taken several Arabic classes and attends the Arab House sessions to sharpen his language skills.
âArabic classes only go up to a certain level,â says Korn. âI wanted to find a way to keep myself going through some program.â
The gatherings are a laid-back and fun way to learn a language.
âOften people will stop and say, âWhat was that word?,ââ says Korn. âOr, âWhat does it mean?â Or, someone will ask, âHow do you say this word in Arabic?ââ
There are times when they must use a word or two in English because there isnât an equivalent in Arabic.
âWhen weâre talking about Spring Fling, you canât literally translate it into Arabic,â says Korn. âWeâll just throw in the English phrase.â
Korn says he has made his Syrian grandmother very proud by speaking Arabic with her.
âSince Iâve studied more formal Arabic, sometimes, sheâll say I havenât heard that word in years. It sounds very pretty.â
Al-Ghazzi, who grew up in Syria and Lebanon, is a doctoral candidate in the Annenberg School for Communication. His academic research examines expressions of collective memory in the Arab uprisings. He says his doctoral studies go hand in hand with leading the Gregory House program.
âIt makes running the classes easier because it is communication-based,â says Al-Ghazzi. âStudents are always asking about current affairs in the Middle East.â
Pennâs College House system also offers residents opportunities for engagement in activities that range from music lessons and cooking classes to discussion groups on current affairs.