By: Mikala McBride, staff writer
Youness Mountaki, assistant professor of Arabic, started his first day at Wofford in the same way as the freshman class – with some reservations, but limitless enthusiasm. Originally from Morocco, Mountaki grew up playing games with friends and spending time with family in Casablanca. He describes his childhood as different from those he has witnessed in the United States so far because he was always outside, whereas he rarely sees children playing outside today. The downside, he says, is that “there were not spaces to read, like public libraries,” while the resources here are in great supply.
He stayed in Morocco for his undergraduate studies, studying about 30 minutes away from Casablanca. His big move to the United States was as a Fulbright scholar at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, where he earned two master’s degrees, one in Education: teaching and learning and one in Liberal Arts. His passion for teaching then led him to the University of South Florida for his Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology.
Mountaki currently teaches all available levels of Arabic at Wofford.
He describes Wofford students as very “excited and motivated to learn,” despite the initial fear many students have about taking a language with a different alphabet and overall structure. In general, he says that students tend to take Arabic in order to better fight some of the misconceptions that people have about the Middle East. Mountaki feels that Wofford is a great place to combat stereotypes, saying that “classes here at Wofford actually give the students an opportunity to know the area, the Middle East, and the Arab world.”
Mountaki’s classes do not just focus on the modern standard Arabic language through the basic class time structure though; he has started a new extra credit program for all Arabic students. Essentially, once a week, students have the option to meet in a classroom with other Arabic students that have a wide variety of experience with the language. Although the ‘Arabic Hour’ is optional, Mountaki gives his students the opportunity to learn more about Arabic culture, food and traditions while still practicing the language with peers. He hopes to conduct a cooking class, arrange an Arabic talent show, show several Arabic films and shows, and introduce new dance moves.
In the future, Mountaki is also planning to present an Interim proposal to Morocco. He hopes students who choose to participate will be better able to interact with and understand the culture of Morocco. He hopes some of the misconceptions about safety in the Middle East can also be dispelled through this trip. The trip would offer students the opportunity to practice Arabic and would also present a new experience with the culture of the MENA region.
Although Arabic classes typically start in the fall and then continue into the spring semester, students can still join the MENA program, which focuses on studying Middle Eastern and North African nations. Mountaki also encourages students to consider taking Arabic next year, because if offers the opportunity to learn about a widely spoken language and diverse culture.