For eight years, Zakaria El Habachi taught public high school students English in his home country of Morocco. Now, Zakaria is finishing up his first semester teaching Arabic to American college students at Drury University. A Fulbright program allows him to live away from home in Springfield, Mo. for one year to teach elementary and advanced Arabic.
“I’m originally from Meknes. It is in the center of Morocco. It’s not a big city, but not very small as well. It’s a historical city and I’m working in Rabat. Rabat is the capital of Morocco. I’ve been working there for eight years,” Zakaria explains.
This is Zakaria’s first year completing the Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA) through Fulbright, a program funded by government and the International Institute of Education. The program came to his attention after hearing about his friends’ experiences.
“I didn’t know that I’d come to Springfield exactly. I heard from my friends who benefited from this program before me that it was a good opportunity to develop maybe another language, to see the environment where that language takes place,” he says. “It’s culturally beneficial as well—since you teach a language, you can’t teach a language without teaching its culture. The cultural aspect is always applied in language. It’s better to go there, so I got the opportunity to come here.”
At Drury, he teaches Arabic I and Arabic III, which consists of ten students. Arabic is the official language of Morocco, but it is also the official language in 24 other countries in Africa and Asia. Zakaria explains what motivates students to study Arabic.
“The majority I think either like the language, they have kind of motivations that are related to their studies,” he says. “I have a student whose motivation came from her neighbors. She has friends from Iraq, so they’ve been speaking with her in Arabic, just giving her some words. She likes the language and now she’s studying it.
“Others were interested in the culture. They were interested also in those stereotypical views of Islam, so you know that most of Arabic countries are Muslim countries. They like taking classes in religion for example and getting to know Islam, so they like to learn the language and know more of the culture.”
Zakaria emphasizes that the key to understanding Arab countries and its people is to take a class, like Arabic.
“It would be very helpful, not just for Middle Eastern studies students, but for all students. Why? Because there have been a lot of misconceptions related to Arabic and Arab people because of the Sept. 11 events,” he adds. “Just for example, myself just two months or three months ago when I first got here, I had a bad experience with discrimination in Philadelphia. I was with my friends, just saying good-bye because I had to take the flight to Springfield, and a passerby just heard me speaking Arabic and started insulting me as if I did something wrong to him. So that was really…I didn’t like that. I think that’s a lucid example of the major idea and misconceptions that many people have on Arabs. So, that’s why maybe a step to correct those kinds of misconceptions would be to take the Arabic class.”
Photos of Morocco cover Zakaria’s office door, along with other photos past Fulbright students left behind.
“I didn’t want to take those pictures because they represent other FLTAs that were here before me. There are pictures of Egypt, pictures of Tunisia,” he points out.
By the end of his assistantship, Zakaria hopes to make his students aware of Morocco—not just where it is located on a map, but its culture and people.
“Part of my duty here is to make them know that country better by giving presentations, by trying to do my best to introduce it,” he says. “My stay here is not just as a teacher, but also as a country ambassador.”
Facts about Morocco as told by professor Zakaria: