For the 9th year in a row, Mercy College was awarded a prestigious grant to fund a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) in Arabic for the 2020-2021 academic year. Since September, Shaimaa Ragab Mohamed from Egypt has been living on the Dobbs Ferry campus, teaching Arabic to Mercy students and taking Mercy College courses.
The goal of the FLTA program is to strengthen language instruction at U.S. colleges and universities while giving foreign teachers the opportunity to refine their teaching skills and experience American culture. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the Institute of International Education awarded Mercy College an additional grant to fund the FLTA’s room and board.
“The FLTA program offers Mercy students the opportunity to have a meaningful encounter with somebody from the Arabic-speaking world,” explained Alan Hartman, D.M.L., director of Mercy’s Modern Foreign Languages Program.
As for Mohamed: “I wanted to learn new teaching methods since the educational system here is different than in Egypt,” she explained. “Also, I wanted to share my culture and my language.”
She has enjoyed watching her students learn and progress. In one particularly memorable lesson, her students read a few words in Arabic for the first time. In another lesson, she shared some customs from the Arab world such as the fact that people greet each other with kisses on the cheeks. “My students didn’t know about that at all,” she said. “They were so happy to be learning about Arab culture as well as the language.”
The psychology and education courses that Mohamed is taking at Mercy have changed the way she thinks about education and the way she teaches: “I learned that understanding my students' feelings and interests will help me to make the teaching and learning process more effective. Teaching isn’t just about giving the information. It’s much bigger than that. Teachers must build students’ social relationships and their confidence in themselves as well.”
Indeed, Hartman thinks that this type of cultural understanding is one of the biggest benefits of the FLTA program. “What’s really beautiful about the program is that FLTAs serve as reverse cultural ambassadors when they return home,” he explained. “They often become English teachers, so their experience at Mercy College serves as a primary platform from which they teach students in their home countries about the English language and American culture for the rest of their careers.”
When she returns to Egypt at the end of this academic year, Mohamed plans for apply for a master’s degree in education. “Being at Mercy made me feel like I don’t want to stop learning,” she said. “I want to enrich my knowledge about education and share my experiences in America with my students and colleagues in Egypt.”