While most high school students enjoyed their summers as far away from school as possible, to John Markis ‘18, the merits of learning a foreign language were more than enough to bring him to Charlestown High School for its annual Arabic Summer Academy. As a part of the National Security Language Initiative STARTalk program, the Arabic Summer Academy joins a collection of summer language programs Belmont Hill students have recently participated in, with Joh
n being one of the first students to take on a language without any prior experience in it. In the span of four six-day weeks of instruction, the intensive summer program served as a comprehensive introduction to the Arabic language and Arab culture for John and 34 other students.
As a passionate and accomplished Classics student on campus, John found inspiration to attend the academy from a lack of modern foreign language experience. For John, Arabic seemed rather accessible to him, at least in comparison to his study of Latin and Ancient Greek. While John markedly appreciates the many complexities of Roman and Greek grammar, history, and archaeology, he itched for the experiential facets of learning a language, such as ordering ethnic food and partaking in cultural traditions. Likewise, as a self-proclaimed political activist and member of both The Podium and Model
United Nations, John realized the unique relevance of learning Arabic. Given the international focus on the Middle East, specifically with Syria and the migration of refugees to Western countries, John recognizes how his newfound knowledge of Arabic can help him gauge international relation
s and understand the strife of those affected by such developments.
Along with the language-intensive class sessions, John engaged with classmates and members of the Academy community who spoke Arabic proficiently. Within the curriculum, John explored the various facets of Arab culture and language, frequently venturing out to Syrian restaurants and local cultural destinations. From tasting his first cactus (and then his second) to exploring the city, John sought to develop both a linguistic and cultural understanding of Arabic and the people who speak it by routinely departing from his comfort zone. Among his most memorable experiences in the program, John recounts a visit to a local mosque where, as the only Christian in the class, he noticed that he was the only one of his classmates not praying. After other similar experiences, John began to adopt a novel perspective that recognizes the differences and similarities between himself and the Syrian refugees in his class that wanted to preserve their knowledge of the language in America. “It was the cultural experiences like that in the mosque,” John explains, “that motivate me to return next summer for the intermediate program.”