Sarah Standish is an Arabic instructor and curriculum developer based in the United States. She grew up in Portland, Oregon and learned Arabic in college while majoring in Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College in New York City, during which time she studied abroad in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.
After completing her bachelor's degree, she spent a year studying Arabic literature in Damascus, Syria, where she felt fortunate to be able to explore a beautiful country only a few years before it would be convulsed by civil war. She began teaching Arabic upon her return to the United States, where she was the founding teacher of the first Arabic program in a public school in Oregon. She is the lead author of the forthcoming Arabic textbook Jusoor (Georgetown University Press) as well as the Academic Program Manager at OneWorld Now! in Seattle, Washington, a nonprofit teaching critical languages and leadership skills to underserved youth.
Even among the hospitable cultures of the Middle East, Syrians stand out as especially warm and welcoming. You may not be able to visit Syria right now, but you can get to know the Syrians who may be living near you due to the refugee crisis. Reach out and ask a Syrian to teach you how to make Arabic coffee, to play backgammon, or to introduce you to some Arabic poetry in translation. You can get a small taste of the country without getting on an airplane, and you won't regret it.
I spent several days traveling alone and exploring the Old City of Aleppo. Recently restored, it was both ancient and completely modern, with vendors hawking goods made in China on city streets hundreds of years old. I've visited a variety of souqs in the Arab world, but I've never met vendors as clever as those, shouting out a constant stream of jokes in multiple languages to entice passersby to their shops. I visited the Great Mosque of Aleppo, with a courtyard so polished it seemed to be topped with glass, and a vast carpeted prayer space. What many people don't know about mosques is that in the Arab world, they are not only places to pray, but places of refuge from daily life. You may visit one to rest, or sleep, or give your children a contained place to play outside. I saw Aleppians of all walks of life joined together there and in the market, and I hope that within my lifetime I'll see such ordinary yet beautiful scenes in Syria again.