My initial plan was to study Arabic at the Arabic Language Center in Damascus University. Courses are four weeks long with a one week break in between courses. I placed into the beginner three course. There are three levels of beginner courses, three of intermediate, and two of advanced. I was rather surprised at how low a class I was placed into but then again I hadn’t studied Arabic for a year and a quarter. I was the second best student in the class and found it very easy. I had four hours of class in the morning and an average of one hour of homework afterwards. I was quite disappointed with the slowness of the pace that I began reviewing on my own the Arabic books I brought with me. I was later recommended by someone at the US Embassy to contact a certain person who runs an institute that provides excellent private tutors. And so I did and decided to take a tutor after the class ends. The tutor is a 25 year old graduate student in Islam and education and from Aleppo. He comes to my room to tutor me five days a week for three hours a day.
I don’t mind the solitary of private tutoring for it is the best Arabic instruction I am receiving. Although the university classes were nice in helping to get know different people. My class there had 11 people and was international with various people from Europe, two of them with family ties to Syria. There was one 19 year old Indian girl from Zambia who just married her first cousin who is from England and was educated at Oxford University in law or finance. I suppose growing up in a western society and being educated at one of the top universities does not always change risky cultural traditions. But by far the most interesting person to me in the class was an Iranian who worked at the Iranian embassy.
However, I meet plenty of different foreigners in Bab Toma and I have a nice group of German friends. One of the surprising things I noticed was that most of the Europeans studying Arabic here were German or Italian and a significant majority of the foreign students in general were female. But I suppose it is due to women showing a greater interest in languages. It is also an interesting fact in comparison to the Arabs of the area who would have thought their women incapable or unsuited to traveling to a different country on their own for studying.