Campbell Students Reach Out To Qatar

Two Campbell High School seniors, Hilario Alberto Aguirre and Christian Galiza, were among 24 students from across the country who participated in an educational exchange trip to Doha, Qatar, last month.

They joined fellow students from Texas, Tucson, Seattle and Washington, D.C., in Doha, where the group was matched up with 24 Qatari students.


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Christian Galiza (left) opened the program's final storytelling session by blowing a conch shell.

An annual program organized by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Qatar Foundation International (QFI), the exchange trip is designed to not only to help students improve their Arabic language skills, but to foster cross-cultural communication. QFI was founded in 2009 to connect cultures of the Middle East to the Americas and to advance global citizenship through education.

“Research shows that across the United States, the Arabic language is one of the rarest languages taught in public schools,” explained Charlie Reaume, youth engagement program associate at QFI. “We also believe that when you bring kids together like on this trip, students find out that they are a lot more similar to each other than they might have thought before.”

This year’s trip, titled “Aber, What’s Your Story?,” focused on storytelling.

To be admitted into the program, the students had to undergo a rigorous selection process, which included demonstrating their written and verbal abilities in Arabic. Each day, the teens would spend the morning learning crucial components of telling a story and public speaking. Then, in the afternoon, American and Qatari students toured Doha together.

Aguirre and Galiza have been studying Arabic at Campbell for the last three years, and they said the trip has helped them improve their comprehension and speaking abilities. It also provided a firsthand look into Qatari culture.

“As an American kid meeting the Qatari kids, that was a very valuable learning experience for me,” he said. “You get to see the life of Qatar from their perspective.”

“Noticing the colloquial nuances of the language, I would say, really helped with my processing of contextual clues while trying to pick up vocabulary,” Aguirre recalled. “Seeing signs and instructions written in Arabic script also strongly boosted my reading ability.”

Aguirre added that he enjoyed experiencing life in a developing country and witnessing “the difficult but worthwhile balance between preservation of tradition and culture and rapid modernization and development.”

At the end of the week, the students left their hotel rooms to camp overnight in the desert outside of Doha, which Aguirre and Galiza both declared was a highlight.

“We got to see something that most tourists don’t see,” Galiza said.

The program ended with an Umsiyya, a traditional Arabic storytelling session, in which the American students told stories in Arabic.

“We were so pleased and so impressed with how confident the students were,” Reaume said. “It was very impressive to see the students from America presenting on stage in Arabic alongside their peers from Qatar.”

Aguirre and Galiza also brought a little bit of the Islands to Qatar during the exchange. Galiza kicked it off by blowing a conch shell, and Aguirre played ukulele while singing in Arabic.

“The crowd was blown away,” Reaume said. “To see their education coming together in a wonderful performance like that really was a wonderful feeling.”