Sheen Atwa is an alumnus of the 2016 CLS Arabic program in Tangier, Morocco. He is currently a sophomore at Georgia State University Perimeter College majoring in political science and foreign languages. He is also a 2016-2017 fellow for the National Network of Arab American Communities. Sheen connects with his cultural identity by cooking Egyptian food, playing the darabooka (Egyptian drum), and listening to Arab music.
I was raised in a multi-racial and interfaith family with a Muslim father, who is an immigrant from Egypt, and a Roman Catholic American mother. Even though I was not taught Arabic growing up, I was surrounded by Arabic food, culture, and music. Learning Arabic was a gateway to reconnect to my heritage and family. Being able to communicate at an advanced level allows me to explore my culture in a myriad of ways that I never realized existed before. Additionally, due to my plans to concentrate academically and professionally in North Africa, my choice to learn Arabic not only becomes a highly sought-after career skill, but an investment in my future.
One of the most endearing and immersive experiences I had in Morocco was celebrating the iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) in a city called Chefchaouen. The other students and I had explored the city the entire day and most of us were fasting. We went to the market for dates, bread, and cheese to break the fast with, which is at sundown, then hiked to the top of a small mountain overlooking the amazing city. We were then joined by a host of young Moroccans who were also waiting to break the fast. We all gathered and shared food together and enjoyed some beautiful music being played by some of the other people there. This taught me the overarching aspect of humanity, culture, and language as well as the friendliness and hospitality that is often found in the Middle East, regardless of what we sometimes hear in the United States.
Being an American Muslim gave me opportunities that not only benefited the introduction of American society and culture to Moroccans from a Muslim’s perspective, but also assisted in translating Islamic culture to the other American students who were participating in the program with me. I often aided in explaining nuances of Arab and Islamic culture to my colleagues on the trip to help them understand the cultural and religious mores.
Words of Wisdom
Do not be afraid of Arabic’s difficulty. If you are interested in studying Arabic, you are already halfway done, because most of learning this language is dedication.