Arabic beyond the Classroom in Uncertain Times: CASA without Borders and the Egyptian Nonprofit Sector

By Chloe Bordewich
Submitted to Session P4840 (Community Based Learning (CBL), An Instructional Methodology for Attaining Professional Proficiency in Arabic: The CASA Experience, 2017 Annual Meeting
A now integral component of the CASA curriculum, CASA without Borders offers students an opportunity to design their own Arabic-intensive research or volunteer experience beyond the classroom walls. My presentation focuses on my experience volunteering with a small Egyptian NGO during my time as a 2012-13 CASA fellow. Now a PhD student in modern Egyptian history, I will discuss how using Arabic outside the classroom complemented formal instruction and informed my career trajectory after CASA. I will begin by surveying the political and social context that shaped the opportunities available to CASA fellows in the summer/fall of 2012, particularly those factors that influenced nonprofit work. The increasing constraints on small, local NGOs receiving foreign funding, for instance, created anxiety in the workplace – including at the renowned women’s development organization where I worked. My firsthand experience, however, informed my understanding of the Egyptian NGO landscape when I took a job with an international organization operating in Egypt immediately after completing the CASA program. In addition to the cultural education provided by the CASA without Borders experience, I will address the linguistic benefits and challenges particular to my project and those more broadly applicable to the initiative. For example, I will discuss the bilingualism or code-switching common in the NGO environment: in order to win grants and implement projects on the community level, staff had to function equally comfortably in international spheres and win the trust of local women with minimal education. Focusing on skills I could not have learned in the classroom, I will discuss my role – expected and actual – as the only foreigner within the organization at the time. My presentation will conclude with reflections on the place of CASA without Borders within the larger CASA program, as viewed from the student’s perspective, and the benefits of CASA as a whole to academic and professional development.