Study in Syria

Content updated Nov. 2010

Special Notice (updated 30 January 2012):

We will not be able to update this page for the indefinite future due to current events in Syria. Please also note that, at the time of writing, the US government has a travel warning that advises against travel to Syria, and the major US scholarship and aid programs that fund study of US-based students in Syria are suspended.

Information about studying Arabic elsewhere can be found on the website of the Association of American Teachers of Arabic. (Please note that the SSA cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information or advice contained on the AATA site.)

Syrian Colloquial Arabic learn on the web

Arabic in Damascus* all prices base on 50 Syrian lbs to $1.00 (update: 2010)

Arabic in Aleppo

Extending your visa or getting an Iqama (residency permit)

News Articles about study in Syria:

Syria is a Mecca of Arabic study. The dialect, lower costs, and joys of living in Damascus make it appealing destination for students. Here are some recent articles on this subject:

General Information about living in Syria

Funding Opportunities

Arabic Overseas Flagship Program: Administered by American Councils for International Education. This is an intensive, year-long, immersion-based program in Damascus, Syria, for students who already have good Arabic language skills, but who want to raise their language proficiency to a professional level. Students with public service career goals may be eligible for full funding through The Language Flagship. Partial fellowships are also available through American Councils and the National Security Education Program. For more information and to request an application, please contact: Rafah Helal, 202-833-7522.

Fulbright Grants

Summer courses in Syria (non-language courses)

American Association of Teachers of Arabic:
List of Arabic programs

Learn Classical Arabic on line, here.


* Many people have provided generous help with this webpage

Studying Arabic in Damascus

Introduction: general information on courses

Damascus is among the best places to learn Arabic, especially Modern Standard Arabic. The city offers several options for studying MSA with institutions that cater to all levels of Arabic, including beginning. Some of the more popular courses are offered by the University of Damascus's Center for Teaching Arabic to Foreigners, the Ma`had in Mezze, and the French Institute (IFEAD). While the program at the IFEAD also includes colloquial Arabic, students at the Ma`had or University combine morning classes in MSA at these institutions with private lessons in colloquial Arabic in the afternoon.

In 2005, various unlicensed cultural/educational centers, such as the British Council, French Cultural Center, Cervantes Institute, and Amideast were prohibited from teaching Arabic in favor of the University of Damascus. Those services are no longer available, unfortunately.

Another popular means of learning Arabic is to study with one (or more) of the many private teachers (see below) available in Damascus, either in place of or in addition to institutionalized classes. Finally, some students engage in "conversational exchanges". Many Syrians want to practice their English, and others seek to improve their French, German, Italian, Japanese or Spanish. While this can be a particularly useful means of studying colloquial Arabic, some foreigners in Damascus also improve their MSA through teaching exchanges. Most students use a combination of the methods listed above in order to get the most out of their time in Damascus.

As the process of "getting settled" in Damascus can take time, it is best to try and arrive at least a few weeks before you intend to start a course. It can take a few days to register for courses (many require preliminary "placement exams"), to find a place to live (after which you must go with your landlord to register with the police), and to apply for an "iqama" or residency permit (prior to which you must pass a government-administered AIDS test). You will need at least a dozen passport size photos, which you can get at Pluto Photo Services, near Cham Palace, for cheaper than in most Western countries. Don't be discouraged by the amount of "red tape" that you will encounter-everyone has to go through it, and at some point you WILL have all the stamps and papers needed. It just takes a while.

Money: The prices given below are in Syrian Pounds (SP). One US dollar equals about 50 SP. There are plenty of ATMs in all Syria's major cities these days (2010). In Lebanon you can get dollars from ATMs and change to Syrian Pounds for the best rates. Take cash if you can - not travelers' cheques. They are difficult and expensive to cash.

Travel to Lebanon: (June 2010). Syria has stopped issuing visa's to American's at the border. Be sure to get a multiple entry visa in Washington before traveling to Syria. This will permit you to travel out of the country and get back in.

The University of Damascus (updated Dec. 2006)

The University of Damascus's Arabic Language Center has the largest enrollment of Damascus institutions teaching Modern Standard Arabic.

Damascus University Arabic Language Center:

Contacting the Language Center - When contacting the Damascus University Arabic Language Center, one should send inquiries to Ms. Rahaj Ajouka, the current Student Affairs Assistant. She responds to emails quickly and she can be reached at

Also try
Telephone: 33925843 11 963

Language Center Programs - Currently, the Arabic Language Center Offers two programs.

The Standard Arabic Regular Courses Program (SARC), runs 10 times throughout the year. This program is open to anyone of any level. The dates for the 2007 SARC program are now available here.

The Damascus Summer Arabic Program (DSAP), which is for American college students that have completed at least 1 year of college level Arabic as a pre-req. It runs for 2 months from the middle of June to the middle of August and it's information for the 2005 program is available here.

One aspect of the DSAP program is homestays with Syrian families in Bab Toumma, the old Christian quarter of Damascus. Ms. Ajouka summarizes the differences in the two programs as the following:"The DSAP is totally different from SARC (Standard Arabic Regular Courses Program) regarding all terms. In SARC, class size is between 8-20, text books are varied: some are prepaired by the academic staff in the center, other books are from the Al Kitab Al Asassi series, in addition to auditing and speaking programs.

You can order transcripts of grades after completing your course (in SARC) and you will automatically recieve your transcripts in DSAP. We do not apply the credit system in the center, however, I have learnt that Ohio State University students who attend DSAP in our center get up to 4 credits for this program when converting their grades to the credit system.

Finally, in DSAP classes size are between 2-10 students, no text books are usesd; students will be studying in a special prepaired programs that fit their level and exact needs." Tutors in Damascus: - Mr. Ghazwan Al Ahmed - Dr. Hazem Alwani

Courses are about 15,000 lira a course ($300), the University is cheaper than either the IFEAD or Ma`had. Students from all over the world attend classes.

Placement tests are held sometime in the week prior to the beginning of each course, after which students are placed among eight levels, (see below). Finals are given at the end of each course. Classes start at 9 am and end at 12:30 pm, with a half-hour break between 11 and 11.30, every day of the week except Friday and Saturday. (Except during the November-December course, when classes are held six days a week to compensate for holiday breaks). Classes are about 15-20 students each, and there are several classes at each level.

The quality of teaching varies greatly; some teachers are known to be outstanding, others not so good.

1. Students should come to Syria 15 days before the beginning of the course and register in Syria (Don't try to do it from abroad.)
2. Students must provide to the Student Affairs office (on the Old Campus in Baramkeh):

  • Photocopy of their passport
  • Their "new student file'
  • Arabic translation of their passport
  • Photocopy of their most recent transcript or diploma
  • Letter of recommendation from their Embassy in Damascus
  • 3 passport photos.
  • While in Baramkeh, students should ask for a copy of their "new student file" to take to the College of Literature in Mezze (the College of Literature administers enrollment for the Center).

3. Students must provide to the College of Literature:

  • Their "new student file"
  • Photocopy of their passport
  • Arabic translation of their passport
  • Photocopy of their most recent transcript or diploma
  • Photocopy of AIDS test (Results take about a week, hence the need to arrive in Damascus 15 days before classes.)
  • 5 passport photos.

Course Duration: 4 weeks: 5 days a week: Weekly Holiday: Friday & Saturday

Levels: (updated Oct. 2010)
Read here

Instructions for Registration:
Registration is preceded after student's arrival to Damascus, during the registration period. A student will have to bring all enrollment requirements to the Students' Affairs office and to pay the required fees in cash.
If a student has learned Arabic before, he/she should sit a placement test before the beginning of the course to define his/her accurate level according to the Center system. The date of the placement test will be specified upon registration.

A certificate of completion is given after the fifth or sixth level. All students must take an entrance examination in order to be placed in an appropriate level. Each class is five days a week, three and a half hours a day.

The French Institute (IFPO), Institut Français du Proche-Orient, Damascus

The IFEAD offers the most expensive Arabic classes in Damascus; however, the teaching and facilities are probably the best. The IFEAD is the intellectual watering hole of Damascus.

Researchers, professors, and academics of all stripes work in the library, which is the best in Syria. They often stay in the comfortable rooms on the 4th floor, and touch base with the welcoming staff and researchers of the IFEAD when they are passing through Damascus. It is the "place to be" for an academic in Syria, which gives taking the Arabic courses there a certain je ne c'est quoi. Teaching methods are designed for students from Europe and North America. (This means you won't meet Cubans, Eritreans, and North Koreans there as you would at the University)

The following information is from the IFPO's website (2010):

1 - YEARLY PROGRAM (updated December 2010)

The yearly programme in Arabic at IFPO (Direction des études médiévales modernes et arabes) provides a comprehensive, research-oriented, linguistic training. It is open to students having had at least two years of Arabic, and able to produce a research project. Classes are given in Arabic

IFPO professors simultaneously hold teaching positions in Syrian institutions, or are involved in research programmes. Eric Gautier currently heads the programme in Arabic. Dr. Gautier holds a position of assistant professor of Arabic at the University of Paris IV - Sorbonne.

The teaching comprises at least fifteen weekly hours, which are divided into eleven hours of group sessions and four hours of individual tutorials. Group sessions are given on the following topics: Arabic grammar and linguistics, classical literature, history of the Arab world, Islamic history, Islamic thought, modern literature, oral and written expression, media and contemporary Arabic culture, Syrian dialect. In the individual tutorials, the student chooses a field of study, and is taught by the professor who specialises in that subject. Individual tutorials allow each student to better define his or her research project and, in the case of students already advanced in their research, to make substantial progress. Individual tutorials can also be adjusted to a professional project.

Every year, IFPO’s language programme admits eight or nine French students on scholarships granted from the Ministry of National Education. Because of agreements made with different universities (Oxford, Exeter etc), and international institutions, IFPO offers an annual Arabic language programme to their students. There are also about twenty-five students of other nationalities (European, American, Japanese, etc.).

IFPO teaches each year up to 40 students. Applicants are selected on the basis of their application and results in the Arabic test, which is sent to them following their application letter. Once they arrive at the Institute, those who have been accepted undergo an oral test, which enables the staff to determine precisely their level in Arabic. Students are placed into four groups, each comprising about ten people.

The programme is divided into three terms (from October 16 to December 22, from the beginning of January to the end of March and from mid-April to mid-June). The cost is 190 000 Syrian Pounds (roughly 3000 Euros) for the whole programme, and 65 000 S.P. (roughly 1000 Euros) for one term (students pay the fees at the beginning of the programme or at the beginning of each term, in cash and in Syrian Pounds only).

On their arrival in Damascus, students attending the programme in Arabic are expected to find their own accommodation. A list of rooms and flats for rent is available at the Institute.

The students must arrive at least one week prior to the beginning of the course to take an oral placement exam and to take care of various formalities.

We suggest that the applications be sent by express mail.

IFPO does not offer financial support to students attending the programme in Arabic.

2 - SUMMER PROGRAM July 03 - 28, 2010

IFPO also offers an intensive summer programme in Arabic.

This programme is open to students, irrespective of their interest in research, as well as to specialists and professionals who need instruction in Arabic. It lasts for the whole month of July (4 weeks), five hours a day, five days a week. The summer programme offers classes on Arabic culture, literature, Arabic grammar, history of the Arab world, press, spoken and written modern Arabic, Syrian dialect. Several levels are offered, from next to beginner (after one year of intensive Arabic) to advanced (after three years or more).

Classes are given in Arabic. Knowledge of French is not necessary, but would be useful.

The cost is 900 Euros. Students pay the fees at the beginning of the programme, in Euros (by check only) or in cash in Syrian Pounds (the amount will be calculated by Ifpo on the basis of a fixed exchange rate).

On their arrival in Damascus, students attending the programme in Arabic are expected to find their own accommodation. A list of rooms and flats for rent is available at IFPO.

The students must arrive at least one week prior to the beginning of the course to take an oral placement exam and to take care of various formalities.

We suggest that the applications be sent by express mail before the end of May 2010.

Forms for the summer programme of 2010, as well as for the yearly programme 2010-2011, can be requested by e-mail as soon as January 2010

Contact :
Eric Gautier
Institut Français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo)
BP 344 Damas

(express mail : Ifpo, Damas, Abou Roumaneh, near Japan Embassy
Tel : (963 11) 3 330 214
Fax : (963 11) 3 327 887
e-mail : Éric Gautier
e-mail :

The Arabic Teaching Institute for Non-Arabic Speakers or "the Ma`had"

We specialize in teaching of both Classical and Modern Standard Arabic to foreigners and emigrants of Arab descent whose circumstances have not allowed education in the Arabic language. E-Mail:

Our focus is on building all aspects of linguistic ability; encompassing listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills into our curriculum.  Our faculty of specialists prepare lessons and researches utilizing academic technology in presentation to their students.

Beginning and intermediate classes in Modern Standard.

Our Academic Sessions


 Registration Date


  Course Fee



1st  October through 15th January


1st  February through 15th May .


1st  June through 15th September .



begins on  28th  September


begins on  29th  January


begins on  29th   May


10,500 SP ($200)


10,500 SP


     12,500 SP   (approx. $240  )

Students of Arabic Learn at a Syrian Crossroads
By THANASSIS CAMBANIS | NYTimes | November 14, 2007
- In Syria’s tightly controlled society, where government strictly limits foreign visitors, language study is a notable exception, an oasis of relative openness. ...

Current Address and Contact Information of the Institute:

Arabic Teaching Institute for Non-Arabic Speakers
Mezzah, Villat Sharkiyya
Damascus- Syria
P.O. Box 9340
T: +963-11-613 2646/613 3151*
F: +963-11-611 9453
Director: Dr. Hazem Alwani

Class Schedule:

Classes are in session daily between 9:00am and 12:30pm, excluding Friday and Saturday.

Students are required to attend no less than 80% of the term’s sessions.

Residence Permits are granted to each registered student and extend for the duration of the term.

Ari Alexander of Magdalen College, Oxford sent in the following description of his studies at the Mahad (February 2004)

During the summer of 2003, I had the good fortune of spending three months in Damascus studying Arabic. I went with one year of intensive Arabic at Oxford (a whirlwind tour of books 1 and 2 of the al-kitaab series), but knowing I would need to review the Arabic grammar and vocabulary to which I had already been exposed. I arrived at the Ma’had in Mezze one or two weeks after the six classes were divided, but that was no problem. Students come into and out of the classes throughout the summer. After taking the placement test and speaking to the director about my goals and my level, I began in Level Three. What I found was that the class felt quite overwhelming at first. It was difficult for me to gauge whether or not I was in the appropriate level because I was primarily focused on how new and difficult it was to be in my first classroom environment where only Arabic was spoken. After nearly a week of giving that class a try, I realized that I was probably the strongest in the class and that I should move up to Level Four in order to challenge myself more. I was surprised to find out that the grammar in my new class was no more advanced, but rather that the texts were a bit longer and the pace a bit faster. The Ma’had is predicated on the importance of reading and re-reading the same words, and it is not uncommon for one or two hours to be spent with the teacher calling on each student to read the same one paragraph text until every one in the room is bored to death. It is, however, quite an effective way of getting Arabic pumped into your system. Again, I would not attend the Ma’had without a solid base of Arabic grammar from previous study. And even with it, the one or two days of week of grammar lessons can feel unbearably childish and repetitive.

The best part about the Ma’had is its international student body. The eighty or so students at the Ma’had during the summer came from Turkey, Malaysia, Japan, the Czech Republic, France, China, India, the USA, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Pakistan, Switzerland and Russia. There is an overwhelming majority of non-Westerners, with more religious Muslims than anyone else. Many of the students who study at the Ma’had are in Damascus to study Islam and want to learn Modern Standard Arabic in order to read the Qur’an. This makes the daily tea/coffee breaks fascinating opportunities for conversing in broken Arabic since it may be the only language in common with other students.

I chose to supplement my studies at the Ma’had with private lessons several times a week. I found these hours to be the best way for my Arabic to improve in a hurry. Naturally, quality instruction can be very costly. I paid 1000 SP per ninety-minute session (about $12 an hour), both to my first-rate Syrian colloquial teacher, who was based at the Italian Cultural Centre, and to one of the Ma’had teachers. With the latter, I read children’s books and studied media Arabic.

Additionally, I spent quite a bit of time studying at the air-conditioned library in the British Council and met several individuals with whom I formed relationships, one of whom I met with on a weekly basis for a language exchange. This is a free and fun way to give and receive language help.

In the end, what sets Damascus apart from other big cities in the region, is the relative absence of Westerners and the relative lack of knowledge of English. This means that it should be harder for you to get away with spending all your time speaking your native language with people just like yourself. As daunting as this may sound, it’s the only and best way to drastically improve your Arabic, while you get to know a major city at the center of the Arab and Islamic worlds. I did not spend one second last summer regretting my decision to go to Damascus over Cairo, Beirut, Amman, Fez, Tunis or anywhere else. In fact, I am hoping to go back for a full year because I had such a positive experience there.

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me (Ari) at

CASA (Center for Arab Study Abroad) Damascus  

The CASA program is a program open to US citizens and Green card holders. It is paid for by the US government. The prerequisite is three years of Arabic and passing an exam.

by Sarah Standish (Jan 2009)

CASA Damascus is a branch of the orignal program begun in Cairo. it was established in 2007 and is administered through the University of Texas at Austin.  The executive director is Professor Mahmoud al-Batal, who oversees hiring and the development of curricula from Austin, Texas, but doesn't take charge of the day-to-day running of the program.  The local Damascus director, Kholod Saqbani, is responsible for that.  In the 2008-2009 school year there were 15 full-year CASA fellows and one summer-only fellow.  It appears that CASA Damascus will not be able to support CASA II fellowships.  The CASA students were split into two levels for the summer and the fall, based on their scores on the CASA entrance exam; most CASA fellows have studied Modern Standard Arabic for three or four years before entering the program.  Prior knowledge of a dialect is not a condition for entering CASA, nor will it help a student gain entrance into the program, and most CASA fellows in 2008-2009 had only a very basic knowledge of colloquial Arabic at the beginning of the program.  CASA Fellows receive a scholarship covering the program's tuition, one round-trip airfare from the US to Syria, and a stipend of $400 per month.  Students are expected to pay a $2000 program fee before beginning the program, the cost of books (which is not very high), and living expenses exceeding what their stipend covers.  It is difficult, though by no means impossible, to live only on the CASA stipend in Damascus.  In general, the CASA stipend will be sufficient for a student who lives in a modest apartment, likely some distance outside of the city center, and cooks a lot; eating out is much more expensive and will strain one's budget.  CASA fellowships are available for US citizens and green card holders; students of other citizenships may enter the program, but must pay the tuition themselves.

CASA consists of three semesters: summer, fall, and spring.  In the two-month long summer semester, students take two two-hour classes each day: Syrian Colloquial Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.  The MSA homework is lighter than in the fall to allow students to spend more time studying and practicing Syrian Colloquial Arabic, which is taught out of a textbook of the CASA teachers' own authorship.  Personally, I have taken many colloquial Arabic courses prior to this one in several different countries, and I never encountered a course that helped me learn to communicate as quickly and as well as this one did.  The MSA class focused on developing students' reading and listening skills through articles and television programs that served as an introduction to various aspects of Syrian culture.

During the fall semester, students focus on developing their reading skills and vocabulary.  Class is reduced to four days per week to allow students more time to complete the assigned reading.  On each of the four days of class per week, students attend three classes, each 1 ½ hours long: Syrian Colloquial Arabic, Listening, and Reading and Vocabulary.  The homework assigned in Syrian Colloquial Arabic is relatively light; students move from studying a textbook to learning from clips taken from Syrian television shows.  The homework assigned in the Listening class is also relatively light.  The homework for the Reading and Vocabulary class is quite heavy, and the material studied varies from year to year.  In fall 2008 we read two novels (The Trees and the Assassination of Marzuq by Abdurrahman Munif and Stone of Laughter by Hoda Barakat), in addition to many articles and excerpts from other books.  The focus, of course, is on a modern use of the language, but we also study one classical text each week.  Students are typically expected to read 50-80 pages each weekend, in addition to do work for the two other classes.  This did not allow for much weekend travel.  At the end of the semester, students submitted a 10-page paper, on any topic.

In the spring semester, students enroll in one mandatory writing class, which meets 1 ½ hours per day, twice a week, and three elective classes.  The elective classes are formed based on students' own suggestions in the final month of the fall semester: students submit a list of classes they'd like to see offered, and then group together with other students who have the same interests.  A group must have at least three students in order to form a class.  Some of the classes that will likely be offered in spring 2009 include Syrian Colloquial Arabic, Modern Literature, Classical Literature, Grammar, Media, Christianity in the Middle East, Syrian History During the Last Century, and others.  Most of these classes are taught by professors from the University of Damascus. The teaching varies in quality.

A quick note might be in order about the differences between CASA and IFEAD, which until the advent of Flagship and CASA seems to have been the main option for organized advanced Arabic study in Damascus.  Firstly, CASA presents a more rigorous program of study; I met many students from IFEAD in Damascus who volunteered or did internships in addition to their classes, while CASA students are unlikely to have the time for many outside activities.  There are, of course, pros and cons to both models.  Secondly, CASA uses more of an American philosophy of education based on extensive classroom discussion as a means of developing language skills and demonstrating knowledge of the assigned materials, while IFEAD seems to use more of a European philosophy based on a teacher who lectures and students who listen.

The Abu Nour Islamic Foundation

The Abu Nour Islamic Foundation may again be accepting foreign students. It had stopped accepting foreign students in 2005, but seems to have taken a few in 2009-2010.

Abu Nour Islamic Foundation
PO Box 7410
Phone, 00 963 11 277 66 53 – 277 71 58 – 277 66 53
Fax: 00 963 11 276 49 89 – 332 16 77

Private Turors and Companies:

Most students are likely - sooner or later - to arrange lessons with a private Arabic teacher. There are many teachers available, and prices and quality can vary. When choosing a teacher, ask around to see what experiences other students have had. If you decide to study with someone about whom little is known, it might be a good idea to arrange a few "trial" lessons first. Then, if the situation does not work out, you can gracefully bow out and try again. Your lessons will be more productive if you make clear to your teacher what you want from him or her. Work out a schedule of study together and agree on the books you will use. Currently, the rate for an hour of teaching is anywhere from 400 SP to 600 SP. For well-educated teachers trained in Arabic instruction, who speak English or French, prices can go as high as 1000 SP an hour.

Private companies also arrange lessons with tutors. We have added a few of those as well:

Nawafir can "help you get started on your Arabic language learning adventure with a complete range of study-related services."

Yosra al-Ahmad -(Added 2010) "I have developed a complete Arab Language program. It covers all levels of language proficiency in colloquial and standard Arabic. See my site. [One student of Yosra wrote me: "Yosra is very good; I've had four tutors in Damascus and she is by far the best. Her English is limited, however."

The Levantine Language Institute offers couses in MSA, classical and Syrian Colloquial Arabic. All lessons at the institute are three hours long (including a coffee break), and can be arranged on a single basis, or as part of a 60 hour intensive course. View a sample lesson here

Arabesk is a private company that offers services oriented to university students in Middle East Studies and anyone who wants to learn Arabic for personal or professional purposes.

Conversation Exchanges

Check the bulletin boards at the various institutions for learning Arabic; often Syrians will post notices looking for exchange partners. Also, a day spent at the University, or somewhere like the Higher Institute for Music, can yield several potential exchange partners. Generally students make fairly good teachers themselves, and often they know other students with whom you can practice speaking. Your embassy and/or cultural center may know of someone who wants to improve their skills in your native language. Most likely, you will have no problem finding someone with whom to converse; foreign language instruction is expensive by Syrian standards, and most Syrians welcome such an opportunity for exchange.

*Please note that these programmes are not sponsored by the University of Oklahoma.*

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