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BTL Arabic World 2013

Shahd (of Saudi Arabia) teaching Arabic 101.
Shahd (of Saudi Arabia) teaching Arabic 101.
 “We taught the American students a few words in Arabic; they learned colors, days of the week, and twisted their tongues trying to pronounce the letter Ḫāʾ (Kha’a),” said Ahmed, one of two students from Bahrain participating in the International Writing Program’s Between the Lines: Arabic World intensive 2-week creative writing and cultural exchange for teens ages 16-19. What started as an informal Arabic 101 lesson at the Shambaugh House that evening evolved into a thoughtful discussion of social and cultural practices including the choice of some women to wear the hijab. Students pulled their chairs into a circle so that everyone could see each other speak in the open.

               

BTL students workshopped in both Arabic and English.
BTL students workshopped in both Arabic and English.
This curiosity and the willingness to listen and learn from one another spilled over into the writing workshops and literature seminars that form the core of BTL. At the request of the students, BTL instructors John Murillo and Ghada Abdel Aal and writers on IWP staff even organized special additional sessions, so that American and Arabic-speaking students could workshop together (instead of splitting off into separate English and Arabic language workshops).

                 

BTL student Zora performs her poetry at the Seldom Seen Festival (with her BTL friends in the audience).
BTL student Zora performs her poetry at the Seldom Seen Festival (with her BTL friends in the audience).
   “My writing has grown so much in the short time I’ve been here,” Salma, a poet from Morocco said.  Lily, an American student from Delaware agreed. “You're the most talented, welcoming group of people I've ever met,” she told her fellow BTLers.
“Because of how at home I felt surrounded by these 23 best friends, I opened up with my writing in a way I never have before.”

               

BTLers relax for a moment on the steps of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City.
BTLers relax for a moment on the steps of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City.
  Students gave a well-attended public reading at The Haunted Bookshop on Friday, July 5th, then, after a graduation ceremony, headed over to the Pentacrest to take in the belated Iowa City Independence Day fireworks display. The American students headed home the next day, while the Arabic-speaking students traveled to Chicago to wrap up a few final days of programming.

               

Documentation Crew Gracie (Iowa) and Ahmed (Bahrain).
Documentation Crew Gracie (Iowa) and Ahmed (Bahrain).
  In two short weeks, BTLers wrote and read each other’s works, shared ideas and did their best to explain what life is like in Kuwait and California, Kansas and Saudi Arabia. “I met the most amazing people in the world in Iowa City, and saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do,” said American student Caitlin. Students expressed the intention to stay in touch with their new BTL friends and many plan to continue exchanging poems and stories and even visit each other in coming years. “You guys have changed me in so many ways,” said Tala, a student from Kuwait. “I learned so much from you all. I hope with all my heart our paths will cross someday soon.”

        More photos and day-by-day glimpses into BTL programing as documented by BTL students themselves can be found here.

        The second session of Between the Lines 2013, bringing together 19 students from the U.S. and Russia, begins July 13th.

BTL is organized in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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