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Students Say Learning Arabic Helps Them Confront Middle East Stereotypes

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Guy Wilson, from Washington Latin Public Charter School, introduces himself in Arabic to classmates.
Kavitha Cardoza
Guy Wilson, from Washington Latin Public Charter School, introduces himself in Arabic to classmates.

By Kavitha Cardoza

Approximately 75 students at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Northwest D.C. are learning Arabic and they say the language has helped them confront stereotypes about Middle easten cultures.

14-year-old Guy Wilson is learning Arabic as part of an after-school program funded with $150,000 from the non-profit Qatar Foundation International. Apart from visits to museums and tasting different food, the class also got to travel to Doha, the capital of Qatar, for free.

Wilson says when students who weren't in the class heard about the trip, "They would tell me I'd get blown up by a suicide bomber," he says. But afterwards, "They were pretty jealous!"

Another student Erica Perry says she was shocked.

"You think you'll see a lot of camels, all desert. When we got there there were streets, high-rise buildings. It was like New York!," says Perry.

When Perry found out the boys and girls didn't socialize she was curious, prompting that all-important question for teenagers around the world, "How do you have boyfriends and stuff?," she asks.

But once the students were on Facebook together, "I noticed that on all their walls they were chatting. So they were using the internet to talk to each other," says Wilson.

A study funded by the U.S. Department of Education shows the demand for Arabic and Chinese classes across the country has increased in recent years, even as the demand for French and German has decreased.

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