Joint MBA/MA and JD/MA: Arabic Language and Culture Program

An underlying premise of the Lauder Arabic Language & Culture Program curriculum is that effective cross-cultural management requires both a high level of language proficiency, which demonstrates abstract thinking and conceptual communication, and a correspondingly strong understanding of the history, culture, politics, and business practices of the Arabic-speaking world. The curriculum develops both dimensions and prepares students to understand the larger cultural context in which Middle Eastern and North African business takes place.

The Arabic Language and Culture courses integrate applied language study and cultural analysis in a comprehensive program made up of the following phases:

May Courses 
Summer Immersion 
Academic Year 

May Courses
Arabic program students take two classes in May, including International Political Economy of Business Environments (INTS 721) with all first-year MBA/MA and JD/MA Lauder students. In addition, the students take the Middle East Area History class (INTS 71X). Students also receive Arabic language instruction and do coursework in May to prepare them for the upcoming overseas summer immersion in June and July. May language course activities are required, and along with the summer immersion, count toward the first academic unit of the INTS Arabic Language and Culture curriculum. Activities related to the Arabic Language and Culture Program include, but are not limited to, a discussion of major cultural differences in Moroccan, Emirati, Tunisian and American business settings; a review of important people and events in Middle East history; an overview of current social, economic and political issues in the Middle East and North Africa; and preparation of résumés in Arabic, all of which are geared towards increasing language proficiency and cultural understanding.

Arabic Summer Immersion
A core component of the program is the eight-week summer immersion in Tunisia, Dubai, and Rabat, Morocco. Students also have the opportunity to take excursions to Marrakech, Tangier, and Essaouira in Morocco. The primary goals of the Arabic summer immersion experience are to advance students’ language proficiency for academic and professional contexts, expand their cultural literacy/knowledge, and develop an increased disposition for critical reflection. These are achieved through in-language classroom instruction, seminars, excursions and company visits.
Students complete about 100 hours of in-language classroom instruction focused on economic, social, political and business topics during summer immersion. The content complements the Middle East History course from May and provides an opportunity for students to reflect upon the historic, linguistic and cultural context of the Arabic-speaking world. Over the summer, students develop the ability to discuss complex social, political, cultural, and economic issues; develop increasingly formal and culturally appropriate communicative abilities; and work towards obtaining a Superior level of language proficiency as defined by ACTFL guidelines. Students also conduct research and interviews in teams in order to write a short article on a business, economic, cultural, or political topic related to their summer immersion site. These articles are published by Knowledge at Wharton, as part of a new series called the Lauder Global Business Insight Report. Recent articles by students in the Arabic program have included such diverse topics as economic diversification in the United Arab Emirates, eco-tourism, the film industry’s growing interest in the Middle East, the transformation of Egyptian telecommunication company Orascom Telecom Holding from a domestic service provider to a global challenger, and e-commerce in Egypt.

Through a diverse agenda of national and multinational organization visits and guest speakers, students are exposed to the current economic and business landscape and future outlook of the region. While visits may change from year to year, previous visits have included Abraaj Capital, Emirates Airlines, USAID Morocco, Dubai Media City, Dubai Government, Mubadala Development Company and Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), Nakheel Properties, Metito, Dubai International Finance Center, UNESCO, Nokia, Cisco Systems, and Pinsent Masons LLP. During these visits, students discuss issues related to specific companies and industries as well as the social and political environments in which they operate.  Students can also expect to participate in cultural activities and gatherings with alumni.

Academic Year
Upon their return from the immersion program, students complete their academic degree requirements through INTS Arabic Language and Culture Program courses. The program complements the international MBA business and management skills developed at Wharton and in Lauder’s International Studies curriculum to prepare both MBA and JD students to confidently navigate a rapidly changing global economic, political, social and cultural landscape. The Language and Culture Program during each semester of the two-year program includes classroom instruction and specialized activities. Thematic content during the two years typically draw upon political, legal, socio-economic, and market issues; literature, history, and philosophy; contemporary business and industry concerns; arts, film, media, and sports as contemporary expressions of a culture and its values; and issues related to current events. Our small, focused classes emphasize mastery of the language, with the goal of reaching a Superior-level of language proficiency, and develop students’ ability for critical thinking and problem solving within the framework of Middle East and North African culture. Students are expected to demonstrate their linguistic proficiency and content awareness through activities that range from debates, presentations, reports, reading and writing assignments and discussions. Some examples of specific themes that may guide the classroom include:

  • Impact of Global Trends on Business and Culture in the Arab World
  • The Arab Spring
  • Oil Economics
  • Islamic Banking
  • Social Media in the Arab World
  • Social Institutions in the Arab World
  • Arabic literature

In addition to class, students explore the different facets of the target culture in contexts that take them outside the classroom. One example is the spring semester mini immersions. These extended in-language activities vary from year to year but are usually related to the themes of the academic curriculum. Last year’s mini immersion included a seminar and panel discussion on the impacts of the Arab Spring followed by a trip to New York to meet His Excellency the Ambassador of Tunisia to the United Nations.

Lauder students complete their MA degree with a course sequence that includes International Political Economy of Business Environments and the Global Economic History, two approved electives from the School of Arts and Sciences, and the Global Knowledge Lab research project.