Atlases and Candy Shops: A Semester Spent Teaching Geography in Establ Antar

By Nik Nevin
Submitted to Session P4840 (Community Based Learning (CBL), An Instructional Methodology for Attaining Professional Proficiency in Arabic: The CASA Experience, 2017 Annual Meeting
Before arriving to Cairo to study Arabic at the Centre for Advanced Arabic Study In Cairo (CAASIC), I was aware that classes are only part of language education. My goal was to develop my language and culture proficiency level to professional functional proficiency through practicing my language in the target environment. Hence, “CASA without borders”, a community based learning component of the CAASIC curriculum, was the course I was most excited for in the Spring of 2015.

This paper will present my experience volunteering as a geography teacher in a school in the underprivileged area of Establ Antar. During the course of CAASIC, I became ever more comfortable with Arabic that is spoken and written by adult educated Egyptians but, before my experience in Establ Antar, I could not not understand the lisps of children and the elderly, nor the accent of the very poor. I was embarrassed to acknowledge that I could read a report about poverty in Arabic, but I couldn’t communicate with the people it was written about.

I will discuss aspects of the culture of the poor in Egypt in relation to the young students' lives and education. In doing so, I will talk from firsthand experience about early marriages that took place in the community, the inspiring teachers I met, the children that dropped out of school to drive tok-toks, and the amount of geography that the students were aware of. I will also detail a field trip I took with the students to an officers’ club in Nasr City.

However counterintuitive it may sound, this experience developed and enhanced my language skills such that I could communicate with people who had dropped out of grade school.