In 2006, the Foreign Language Department at McDaniel was left with a retention rate of roughly 40% and no professor. After only beginning to offer Arabic classes in the fall of 2005, it looked as though Arabic may no longer be offered.
That is until Dr. Mohamed Esa, Chair of the Foreign Language Department at McDaniel, through coincidence, heard of a Palestinian family living in Mt. Airy, Maryland, only a short distance from the college. With the need for a new instructor, Dr. Esa was able to contact the family. Four years later McDaniel College now offers a total of 5 Arabic language courses and just had their first student graduate with a Self Designed Minor in the Arabic Language last spring.
Professor Carol Zaru, known as Carol to her students and colleagues, came to the United States in 2001 looking for a safer environment to raise her family.
She was born in East Jerusalem, Israel and grew up in Ramallah, in the West Bank. She is Palestinian and grew up in the middle of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. She stayed in Ramallah most of her life, even after graduating from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan with a degree in Environmental Chemistry.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the political situation in Ramallah became unstable. As the conflict escalated so did the violence, and Professor Zaru, now with 3 children of her own, started to worry for her family’s safety.
She said it was so dangerous “…you couldn’t even move from town to town. Each town was like its own independent territory. I could no longer even go to Jerusalem where I was born.”
Fortunately, Zaru held an American Passport since her father was born in Michigan. Her husband, an architect working with a local builder in Maryland, purchased land and a small house in Mt. Airy, prior to the violence in Palestine, as an investment for his family. That investment really paid off. Zaru decided it would be a perfect place to raise her family and get away from the conflict that was taking over Ramallah and threatening her family’s safety.
From 2001 until 2006, Zaru helped her husband start a successful home building company while living in Mt. Airy. When she was between jobs and the Foreign Language Department was looking for teachers, Dr. Esa made contact with her and asked if she would consider teaching Arabic at McDaniel.
With no previous teaching experience she was somewhat timid but decided to give it a try. Together Dr. Esa and Professor Zaru attended an Arabic teachers’ workshop at Georgetown University. Along with Arabic teachers from programs around the country, she learned how to teach by using the Arabic textbook that students use in classes at McDaniel.
After an intensive few weeks she knew she had the necessary tools required to teach Arabic to English-speaking students but she wasn’t sure how she would feel when it was time to actually teach in a college setting.
In the fall of 2007 it was time for her first class. “ I was very, very scared. My first day was petrifying.,” said Professor Zaru. But teaching came natural to her and she quickly learned that she enjoyed it. It seems that her students really enjoy it too. Almost all of her first students continued to the second Arabic class, Arabic 1102, which was the last available Arabic class offered at McDaniel at the time. Hungry for more, the students asked the administration for another Arabic class and then another.
McDaniel now offers 5 Arabic classes in all, mostly due to Professor Zaru’s passion for teaching the Arabic Language and her students’ passion for learning. “She is passionate in what she is doing; she really cares about her students,” said Dr. Esa. “ When she took over, the retention skyrocketed,” Esa added, “She has a tremendous effect in the whole thing.”
Second year Arabic student Michael Orevba agrees, saying, “She is a great teacher and if she wasn’t I wouldn’t be in this class right now.”
It is evident that Professor Zaru has had a great effect on the McDaniel community. Although Arabic is still only a self -designed minor, there is a push from several teachers to look at the potential of making Arabic an official minor at McDaniel. If the program does get off the ground, it is safe to say that much of the progress is due to Dr. Zaru’s hard work and passion.
While still an adjunct professor, she has taken the Arabic language at McDaniel to a whole new level. It will be interesting to see where the passion and dedication of Professor Zaru and her students will take the Arabic Program at McDaniel in the future.