Critical Language Scholarship Program | Heba Haleem

Heba Haleem

Heba Haleem is an alumna of the 2018 CLS Arabic program in Meknes, Morocco. She has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Brown University and is currently an M.D. candidate at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, where she’s spearheading an Introduction to Medical Arabic pre-clinical course. Heba loves going on food expeditions, eating cookie dough ice cream, reading thrillers, and baking. In fact, if she weren’t working toward becoming a doctor, Heba would open up a bakery.

A Cross-cultural Upbringing

I have a meshed cultural identity: I was born in Texas and grew up in in the dusty suburbs of Arizona, and have also lived in Pakistan for two years, where my parents emigrated from. I still have family in Pakistan, so it is very close to my heart and I love visiting every chance I get.

My CLS host family had lots of questions about my community back home. Specifically, when they saw that I wear the headscarf and am a Muslim, they were curious about the way Islam is practiced in the United States. I shared many anecdotes with my host family about what it’s like, such as how heterogeneous Muslim communities are in the US unlike those in Morocco, where everyone in the mosque is mainly Moroccan.

Developing a Desire to Study Arabic

Many Muslims may empathize with me when I say that I was first exposed to Arabic during Quran Sunday school as a five-year-old. I could read Arabic but didn’t understand it one bit, so in college, I decided I wanted to study and learn to speak colloquial Arabic. Before going on the CLS Program, I studied abroad in Jordan where I studied the individual therapeutic processes of Syrian refugee women. This project showed me that speaking Arabic would make me a better researcher and doctor among the populations that I want to work with, such as refugees here in the United States.

In the future, I want to work with Arabic-speaking refugee populations to help them get quality healthcare despite the socioeconomic and cultural barriers. Arabic will allow me to connect with this population and build trust.

Although it can be a challenging language at times and takes dedication, Arabic is one of those languages that really pushes you to think and experience in a way that English doesn't. Its grammar is complex yet practical, its vocabulary challenging yet enlightening. Arabic will open beautiful new doors for you. I encourage you to come on in!

A Memorable Holiday

Eid is a very special holiday for Muslims around the world, filled with food, fun, and celebration. My host mom was so sweet and wanted me to have the full Moroccan Eid experience. So the day before Eid, she took me out to these beautiful lit up tents where women were getting henna done, which was a magical experience! Eid day itself was filled with cookies, tea and coffee, and many guests visiting the house. For lunch we had couscous and for dinner tagine. The FIFA World Cup was going on and it happened that Morocco was playing that day, so I went with my host mom’s nephew to a café, bustling with the Moroccan youth, to watch the game. It was exciting to be able to experience how a Moroccan family celebrates Eid!

CLS Alumni Ambassadors are recent CLS participants who take leadership roles as active and positive representatives of the CLS Program by engaging with CLS alumni and representing the program to various audiences. If you would like to get in touch with a CLS Alumni Ambassador, please contact

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Heba Haleem
Heba Haleem

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Posted Date

May 06, 2019