<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Ghazi Abukahema
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School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs (Arabic)
logoGhazi Abuhakema/Arabic
Arabic at CofC: Where Language and Culture Can Be One's Refuge
By Nicolle Pufal

If you type the unfamiliar name, Dr. Ghazi Abuhakema, in a Google search, you will get more than 9,000 results.

Not so surprising once you realize Abuhakema, an assistant professor and Arabic program coordinator at the College, has earned degrees from four different colleges in three different countries, has taught three different levels of education in three countries, and who has written a book.

Ghazi Abuhakema was born in Palestine on the West Bank in a refugee camp. The camp was set up in the 1950s to accommodate expelled Palestine's from their home towns after Israel was established. His family was originally from a town near what is now Tel-Aviv. Leaving or entering the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1966, requires permission from the Israeli authorities.

This is precisely what Abuhakema did when he was awarded an English scholarship to al-Yarmouk University in Jordan, but he said it was not as difficult for him to travel at that time. After Abuhakema earned his B.A., he attended Birzeit University in Palestine and received his Teaching Certificate and Translation Diploma.

Abuhakema came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship where he obtained a M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from St. Michael's College in Vermont. Abuhakema attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned a Ph.D. in applied linguistics.

"It was my dream to have a Ph.D. in something ever since I was a little boy," Abuhakema said. "In my culture, it has a ring to it, an impact, and something to be proud of."

Abuhakema views culture and language as one item. "Culture has to be part of your language class. You can’t avoid it," he says. Abuhakema shares this ideology with his College of Charleston students.

Having taught at five previous schools, at different education levels, Abuhakema brought to the College a wealth of classroom experience. After finishing his degree at al-Yarmouk University, he went back to his roots at the refugee camp and taught English at the camp middle school. He also taught high school in a neighboring town, Berzeitt.

In the United States, Abuhakema has taught Arabic language and culture at Montclair University in New Jersey, the University of Texas, an online program with National University of San Diego, Hunter College in New York City, and Middlebury College in Vermont.

When asked what is most motivating and rewarding about his career, Abuhakema said, "My students. I want them to have the best."

"Ghazi understands that the only way you can learn a new language is through a lot of practice," said one of his students. "If you show effort, he will not let you down."

A student in his elementary Arabic class said, "Great topic and of course, he is from the heritage himself so it really helps!"

Out of the classroom, Abuhakema is constantly studying and researching new topics within language acquisition. He plans to submit a paper, "Heritage and Non-Heritage Language in Arabic Classroom: A Challenge or Blessing?" in February 2010 to Heritage Language, an online journal.

He is also researching the strategies students use in learning Arabic and how the strategies differ between students of the Arabic heritage and those who are not. "One of the things people discuss all the time is can we mix heritage and non-heritage students in the classroom?" Abuhakema said.

Within today's society, Abuhakema notes that it is not plausible to not mix the two types of students, but is still in fact, hard to teach them in the same classroom setting at the same time. Therefore, Abuhakema mentions the importance of capitalizing on the resources educators have in the classroom to deal with the situation.

Abuhakema was approached by Berlitz Publishing to write a script for its Arabic edition in the Guaranteed series, which is an all-audio course. Abuhakema wrote the script for Berlitz. Arabic Guaranteed was published in December 2007. Abuhakema said, "It wasn't very challenging to write."

It is only used for speaking purposes, therefore, Abuhakema uses parts of it as supplementary material in his own course. Thousands of people around the globe use it too.

As though having a career and family were not enough, Abuhakema teaches, researches and has a personal life. When asked how he manages to balance all three, Abuhakema said, "You have to step back at some point and make sure you are being fair to your family, yourself, and career."

Abuhakema says help can come with support of colleagues, which he says is found in abundance at the College of Charleston.

Great weather, great campus and great students, Abuhakema has reached his refuge.