After having just returned from a summer spent in Cairo, studying at the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA) program, I figured I'd kick off the new semester with a few comments on the different Arabic language programs for American students in Cairo.
First, a few words on the CASA program. The application process is a lengthy and strenuous one (you have to sit for a challenging four hour Arabic exam on a Friday morning in February, and then have to conduct a 30 minute long telephone interview to test your oral proficiency). Fortunately, CASA moved back to the Tahrir campus this summer, after having spent two years out in the desert at the new AUC location. The word on the street was that too many CASA students were complaining about the three hours spent each day commuting back and forth to the new campus. Surely, this grueling commute coupled with the four hours of homework daily was too much for students to handle. However, unfortunately for the ALI students, the ALI program was not moved back to Tahrir in tandem with CASA, and the ALI students had to suffer the painfully long commute on a daily basis.
Second, I cannot overstate the quality of the CASA program. Classes are small, and the quality of the faculty is outstanding. Each student takes two courses every day: colloquial Egyptian Arabic and contemporary literary Arabic. The 'amiyya course focuses on everyday vocabulary that comes in quite handy, especially the frequent idioms that one hears and notices every day after having been exposed to them in class. The fusha course focuses on advanced media Arabic in addition to moderately complex literary forms. During the summer term we were assigned three novels to read, one of which being The Yacoubian Building. At the end of the semester, Ala' al-Aswany (the book's esteemed author and prominent critic of the Egyptian regime) came to the CASA program for some Q&A, which proved interesting. I get the feeling that he is a little more complex than his detractors make him out to be, but perhaps that's a topic for another post.
In short, I would recommend the CASA program whole-heartedly to any aspiring Arabic student out there who qualifies for it. ALI is an outstanding program as well for those who are still in the beginner-intermediate phase, but I'd definitely recommend finding funding from somewhere; the cost of ALI's summer tuition is through the roof. And given ALI's location out at the new campus in the desert (with very little shade, mind you), there are reasons to consider other less expensive programs. After all, I doubt that there will be much opportunity to practice your Arabic skills at the Chile's restaurant chain out there in New Cairo.