I spent last week in the great city of Boston attending two Arabic-related events. One was the Middle East Studies Association annual conference. The second was a forum on Teaching Arabic sponsored by the Qatar Foundation.
I was there as a consultant with International Language Institute, an Arabic school in Cairo. I had studied Arabic there many years ago. Last July I did an interview with the school’s Directors on the situation facing Arabic schools like in the post-2011 era. Since October I’ve been working with ILI to help them increase their presence in the US market.
Like any school in Egypt catering to foreign ASL students, the last 5 years have been very difficult. Enrollment everywhere has tanked. Many a good teacher has lost their livelihood. Several schools been forced to shut their doors. They are working hard to make a comeback. But you can’t avoid:
The elephant in the room – the Security Issue
Anyone familiar with the study of Arabic knows the merits of Egypt. Cairo is by far the best place in the Middle East for learning Arabic.
But the security issues along is preventing a comeback for Egypt as a study abroad destination. A major element of that are formal US government warnings against travel to Egypt.
The main effect of the travel warnings occurs at the institutional level. In other words, the domain of formal arrangements between US universities and institutions in Egypt (such as AUC or ILI).
Before attending Boston I conducted a market research survey and spoke with people at about 30 universities. Nearly all Most were sympathetic to the idea that the travel warnings “hype” up the security issue more than is merited. Most US academics I spoke with are open to the idea of having students from their school return to Cairo. Yet they also pointed out that it’s a mute point, given the legal liability their schools face as long as the USG warnings are in place.