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Tunisia: Emerging Identities in North Africa

Tunisia: Emerging Identities in North Africa

Examine the dynamics between modernity and tradition, Islam and constitutional democracy, technology and youth culture, and social and political transition in Tunisia.

As the site of the first protests of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is an ideal site from which to study the twin tensions shaping Arab communities today: tradition and modernity. Students consider the country’s secular tradition; multicultural population; and the recent resurgence of popular Islam and the role of the Islamist movement in shaping the political, social, and cultural landscape of post-revolutionary Tunisia. Students also learn or advance their language skills in Modern Standard Arabic or French.

Major topics of study include:

  • The impact of Tunisia’s social revolution on international relations in North Africa and the Middle East
  • The role of Islam and the Islamist movement in post-revolutionary Tunisia
  • Youth culture, social media, and social change
  • Impact of tourism on popular culture
  • Mass media and popular identity
"My experience in Tunisia with SIT was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The academic content was tremendously enriching, and I expanded myself greatly intellectually. The program is very well thought out.

Lindsay Novis, Fordham University

Ksours, TunisiaStudy at the intersections of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

As the northernmost country on the African continent, just south of Europe, Tunisia is the most Mediterranean country in North Africa, particularly in terms of customs and lifestyle. This location provides an ideal setting for students to study the factors driving the emergence of new identities and the multifaceted forces — both local and global — shaping contemporary social movements across North Africa that sparked the Jasmine Revolution. Students are challenged to identify both the manifest and discrete cultural phenomena shaping Tunisian and Arab identity that were instrumental in sparking the Arab Spring.

Live in cosmopolitan Tunis.

During the first seven weeks of the program, students live with host families in the northern suburbs of Tunis and attend lectures and seminars given by prominent academics from Tunis University. During this period, students visit historic and cultural centers including the ancient site of Carthage and the city's medina.

Through SIT's partnership with the renowned research center CEMAT (Center for Maghreb Studies in Tunis), students engage with local and international students and academics focused on identity and social change.

Garlic Stall in TunisiaTake thematic courses on Arab identity and learn how Arab popular culture is being reshaped by youth, media, and social movements.

Students examine the following topics as part of the program’s thematic seminar:

  • North African social movements, including the dynamics and expansion of women, Islamist, and human rights movements.
  • Youth and globalization. Topics include youth in relation to unemployment, Islam, emigration, political participation, and hip-hop culture. Students have the chance to discuss these topics directly with Tunisian young adults; they also visit youth clubs, NGOs, radio and TV stations targeting youth audiences, and higher education institutes devoted to training "youth cultural instructors."
  • Mass media and culture, including the proliferation of media outlets in the region, especially through satellite television; the effects and impacts of new technologies on the imagined Arab identity; and how phenomena such as Al-Jazeera and the Internet have given shape to a new understanding of national identity in the Arab world. 
  • Islam, secularism, and identity, including debates in relation to the veil, cyber Islam, the state and Sharia Law, and religious radio programs.

Independent Study Project (ISP)

Students spend the last four weeks of the program completing an ISP in which they directly apply the concepts and skills acquired from previous coursework and experiential exercises. The ISP gives students the opportunity to critically examine a topic, community, or situation of particular interest to them.

Topics for consideration include:

  • The new state and civil society
  • The Arab Spring and the tourist industry
  • Political cartoons
  • Identity formation through Islamic education
  • Governance and youth empowerment
  • Role of civil society and democracy-building
  • Arab reality TV
  • Origins of the Tunisian Revolution
  • Sexuality in Islam
  • Women's movements in North Africa

Access Virtual Library Guide

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

The program’s thematic seminars introduce key aspects of emerging identities in Tunisia following the Arab Spring. Lectures and excursions introduce students to the culture and politics of Tunisia, the transformation of secular and Islamist identities, and the roles of media and youth in social movements. Students on the program may choose to study either Arabic or French; both language courses accommodate any level of language ability. The Arabic course includes a focus on the Tunisian colloquial dialect, and the French course provides students with French language study within a Tunisian context and, for advanced students, an introduction to Francophone literature in North Africa.

Arab Spring and Emerging Identities in North Africa - syllabus
(MDES 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Focusing principally on contemporary Tunisian society, this course examines transformations in local identities in the context of democratization, globalization, and recent political change. Through a focus on two themes — Tunisian culture and civil society, and Islam, identity, and democracy — the course probes the impact on identities prompted by social change across the region. In particular, this course explores the formation of new political identities — both secular and Islamist — in a period of nascent democratization.

Youth, Media, and Social Movements - syllabus
(MDES 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Focusing principally on contemporary Tunisian society, this course examines transformations in Arab popular and political culture, with an emphasis on the mutually constitutive impact of new information and communications technologies on the emergence of local and regional civil society. Through a focus on two themes — mass media and the Arab Spring and youth, politics, and social movements — the course probes the ways in which the Internet and related electronic revolutions across the region have changed and are changing expressions and understandings of Arab political culture. Course lectures, debates, and educational excursions foreground various tensions and moments of continuity between modernity and tradition in Arab culture, illuminating the seemingly disparate connections between various social phenomena, including raï and hip hop music, bilingualism, mural art, the reemergence of the hijab, jihadist Islam, and the emergence of a new democratic culture.

Research Methods and Ethics - syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This is a qualitative research methods course designed to provide an overview of methodological approaches in a short time and within the local cultural context. The course offers students the basic tools necessary to conceive and conduct field research in Tunisia. Similarly, the seminar is designed to provide students with the theoretical concepts essential for translating lived experience into learning experience. The course not only introduces field-based research skills (such as interviewing and participant and non-participant observation), but also strengthens students' cultural awareness through exercises and discussions about researcher positionality and the ethics of fieldwork in Tunisia. In so doing, Research Methods and Ethics provides students with the cultural understanding and critical acumen necessary for the successful completion of the Independent Study Project (ISP).

Independent Study Project - syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Tunis or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Sample topic areas: role of women’s organizations in transforming feminist discourse; street art before and after the Tunisian revolution; reproductive health in Tunisia; illegal immigration from Tunisia after the Jasmine Revolution; political Islam in Tunisia; political agency among young people in post-revolutionary Tunisia;; humanitarian efforts in Tunisia; political self-education among Tunisia’s youth..

Language Study – Arabic or French
Students choose to enroll in either Modern Standard Arabic or French. Students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced Arabic or French language classes based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing. Note: Beginning and intermediate French students enroll in the course French in Tunisian Contexts at the appropriate skill level. Advanced French students enroll in the course North African Francophone Literature.

Beginning Modern Standard Arabic- syllabus
(ARAB 1000 –1500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Intermediate Modern Standard Arabic - syllabus
(ARAB 2000 –2500 / 3 Credits / 45 class hours)
Advanced Modern Standard Arabic - syllabus
(ARAB 3000 – 3500 / 3 Credits / 45 class hours)
The Modern Standard Arabic course focuses on speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom instruction, with additional opportunities for language learning with homestay families and on educational excursions. Students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes, based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing. A short, non-credit introduction to Tunisian Colloquial Arabic is included in all language levels.


Beginning French: French in Tunisian Contexts - syllabus
(FREN 1000–1500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Intermediate French: French in Tunisian Contexts - syllabus
(FREN 2000–2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students who place at the beginning or intermediate level in French language study one of the two intensive courses above, to either begin or further enhance their language skills in a North African context. The focus is on oral proficiency and the role of French language in contemporary Tunisia. French in Tunisian Contexts integrates a variety of local media to promote nuanced understandings of the unique role of French language in Tunisia, including contemporary print sources and audiovisual materials, together with experiential activities accompanying the course text.

Advanced French: North African Francophone Literature - syllabus
(FREN 3000–3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students who place at the advanced French language level focus on social and cultural representations in North African Francophone Literature. Through the study of literary texts by Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan authors, the course addresses issues of bilingualism, postcolonialism, identity, and nation building. The course also relies on discussions with Tunisian academics and students to enhance students’ oral proficiency and to facilitate their immersion in Tunisian society.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Discover Tunisia’s ancient history, contemporary challenges, and cultural and geographic diversity.

El Jem, TunisiaThe SIT Tunisia program includes two weeklong educational excursions throughout the country as well as short field trips within Tunis and the Cap Bon region. Trips around Tunis include visiting Carthage; the Bardo archeological museum; Tunis’s historic medina; Nabeul, Tunisia’s ceramics capital; and Hammamet, a popular holiday resort.

Excursions reveal:

  • Tunisia’s extraordinary historic riches
  • The geographic and human diversity of Tunisia’s different regions and the way the country’s tourism industry has exploited this diversity
  • The impact of mass tourism on Sahara and oases lifestyles
  • Economic inequalities between coastal regions and hinterland

Southern Excursion: Kairawan and the Sahara

This seven-day excursion acquaints students with the country’s heartland and allows them to experience the juxtaposition of traditional culture and the modern influences of globalization.

In Kairawan, the first Muslim settlement built after the conquering of North Africa in the 7th century, Islamic and Arab presence is still strong. A highlight of the excursion is visiting the “Libyan” market in the town of El Jem; the market is a storehouse of products and commodities from all over the world, which serves as a testimony to the mercantile dimension of globalization. El Jem boasts the third largest Roman amphitheater in the world.

On the island of Djerba, students visit Turkish and Spanish ribats (seafront forts), Africa’s oldest synagogue, and a Talmudic school in the Hara Kebira (Jewish quarter). Students discuss with the local rabbi and residents challenges related to maintaining their faith in an overwhelmingly Muslim region.

En route from Djerba, students visit troglodyte dwellings and traditional Berber mountain villages, used as the set for the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies. In Douz, an oasis in the Sahara dunes, students spend time at a cybercafé to observe how the Internet is affecting the lives of ordinary Tunisians, particularly youth.

Northern excursion: Bizerta and Tabarka

Bizerta, TunisiaThe program’s five-day excursion through the mountainous regions and coastal cities of northern Tunisia takes students from Roman Dougga and the plains of the Mejerda Valley, once known as Rome’s breadbasket, to the mountain community of Sejnane, where students observe traditional red clay potters at their kilns, and Tabarka, a coral fishing town transformed into a stylish holiday resort for the wealthy.

In Bizerta, with its lingering French colonial atmosphere, students have the opportunity to observe a diversified economy based on tourism, manufacturing, wine production, and military bases. They will observe the effect of the global market on local customs.

Students will also explore the fascinating ecosystem of Ichkeul National Park where flora and fauna alternate every six months between freshwater and marine conditions. The excursion culminates with a visit to the archaeological site of the ancient Roman city of Utica, set today within an international free trade zone.

Accommodations during the excursion may include hotels, guesthouses, and an environmental center.

I know from all that my daughter tells me of her time in Tunisia that it would not have been the same without Dr. Khélifa’s great care, nurturing, and enthusiastic instruction. I am very grateful to him for making her time in Tunisia not only memorable but a great learning experience.

Rosemary Graham Mora, parent of an SIT Tunisia alumna

Mounir KhelifaMounir Khélifa, PhD, Academic Director

Dr. Khélifa is a native of Tunisia. He studied English at Tunis University, the Sorbonne, and Yale, where he received his MA and PhD. A professor of English language and literature for more than two decades, he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in poetry, poetics, and comparative literature at Tunis University. He has held several academic administrative positions, including director of English graduate studies at the University of Manouba from 1998 to 2002, and was senior advisor in the cabinet of the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (2002–2006), where he was responsible for cooperation with foreign institutions and curricular reform. Dr. Khélifa has recently been made a lifetime member of the Tunisian Academy for the Arts, Letters, and Sciences.

As academic director, Dr. Khélifa oversees all aspects of the SIT Study Abroad Tunisia program. In addition to designing the program’s academic and field-based components, he advises students and ensures that their academic needs are met. In this role, Dr. Khélifa draws on his understanding of both American and Tunisian higher education systems, his intimate knowledge of Tunisian culture, and his wide range of contacts in the area.

Nadya GhribiNadya Ghribi, Program Assistant and Language Coordinator

Nadya has a master’s degree in English language and literature from the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure of Tunis. As program assistant, she serves as the students’ key resource on homestay issues, educational excursions, translation, logistics, and general matters related to Tunisian culture and society. She also supervises the Arabic language placement test and oversees the Arabic language program. As a native of Tunis, Nadya is quite knowledgeable about both its medina and European quarters as well as the northern suburbs where SIT and the host families are located.

Najla Abbes, Arabic Language Instructor

Najla Abbes has a master’s degree in transcultural poetics from Tunis University. As a Fulbright scholar, she taught Arabic language and culture to American students at Pfeiffer University (North Carolina) in 2007 and 2008. In addition to being involved in teaching Modern Standard Arabic with the Critical Language Scholarship program in Tunisia, Najla has been the SIT Tunisia Arabic language instructor, responsible for teaching Modern Standard Arabic and Tunisian Dialect, since the spring of 2009.

Lecturers for this program typically include:

Férid Boughedir

Férid is a Tunisian film director, cinema critic, and historian. He taught film studies for many years at Tunis University and presided over or was a member of many film festival juries, such as the Cannes Film Festival and Les Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage.

His first film, Halfaouine, l'enfant des terrasses (Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces, 1990), is his best known work outside Tunisia. In addition to numerous documentaries and short films (Pique-nique, 1972; Caméra d'Afrique, 1983), his other feature films are: Un été à La Goulette (1996), and Villa Jasmin (2008).

Asma Nouira, PhD

Asma Nouira has a PhD in political science. Her field of specialization is law and Islamic studies with special emphasis on the state and Islam. She is an assistant professor of law and political science at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Management at Jendouba University. She is a member of Unité de Recherche État, Société et Culture, and Groupe de Recherche Islamo-Chrétien (GRIC), as well as the author of Le Mufti de la République, la fonction et l’institution (Tunis, Cérès Production 2000) and Responses to Wahabism in the 19th century (Beyrouth, Dar Al Taliaa 2008).

Professor Hamadi Redissi

Hamadi Redissi is a professor of public law and political science at the University of Tunis. In 2008 he was a visiting scholar at Yale University and in 1999 at Fordham University. A Fulbright scholarship recipient, he has lectured at several American universities (Yale, Fordham University, Colorado College, Loyola University, and the American Academy of Arts and Science in Boston).

He is the author of several publications, including L’exception islamique, Paris, 2004; Les Politiques en Islam: le Prophète, le roi et le savant, Paris, 1998; and Religion and Politics: Islam and Muslim Civilization (in collaboration with Jan-Erik Lane), London, 2004. He recently published a book on the history of Wahhabism (Le Pacte de Nadjd ou comment l’islam sectaire est devenu l’islam, Paris, 2007) and co-edited a collection of manuscripts refuting Wahhabism in the 19th century, Beirut, 2008.

The families really worked hard to make the students feel as integrated as possible. I was truly treated like a daughter.

Krista Moore, Macalester College

host mom in TunisiaStudents in the Tunisia program participate in a seven-week homestay in Tunis with host families familiar with the issues explored in their coursework. Homestay communities range from the centuries-old La Marsa neighborhood, once a suburb of ancient Carthage, to neighborhoods such as El Menzah, a garden city designed in the 1950s. Where cultural considerations or family structure make the seven-week homestay impossible, comfortable and safe alternative lodging is secured in apartments or dorm rooms. Students undertaking ISPs in Tunis may extend their homestay/alternative accommodation by four weeks.

Other accommodations include hostels, research institutes, or small hotels.

The homestay experience in the words of an alumna...

"The homestay was an amazing experience and remains one of my best memories from Tunisia. My host family lived in La Marsa, a seaside suburb of Tunis. Because family plays such an important role in Tunisian culture, the homestay was a great way to immerse myself in the culture and get the most out of my experience. It gave me access to cultural activities and also provided me with support during my semester abroad.

"I arrived in Tunisia during the holy month of Ramadan, a month centered on family get-togethers full of delicious, traditional meals always followed by glasses of mint tea and pastries. Two other celebrations also centered on family and friends — Aid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan and Aid al-Aidha a few months later — gave me further cultural insight. These events were also fantastic opportunities to practice my burgeoning Arabic skills. The homestay enabled me to participate in these celebrations and made me feel welcome.

"The opportunities for food and celebration were clearly highpoints of the homestay experience, but living with my host family provided many other valuable benefits. My host family was incredibly welcoming, and wanted me to get the most out of my stay. I was truly treated like a daughter and integrated into daily activities, whether those included cooking, shopping, or visiting friends and family. I gained a view of everyday life, but the homestay also helped me adapt. I used my host family as a resource for discussing adjustment issues and culture shock, and talking with them helped me feel more comfortable. My host family gave me a feeling of constancy and made the transition to living in Tunisia not just easier, but also so much more enjoyable. By the time I boarded my airplane home, I no longer felt like a tourist in Tunisia; I had established friendships and connections that I value to this day."

Krista Moore, Macalester College

Program Dates: Fall 2015

Program Start Date:  Sep 1, 2015

Program End Date:    Dec 14, 2015

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   May 15, 2015


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $12,150

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Two thematic courses: Arab Spring and Emerging Identities in North Africa and Youth, Media, and Social Movements
  • Research Methods and Ethics course
  • Intensive language instruction in Arabic or French
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Kairawan, El Jem, Djerba, Tozeur, Nabeul, Hammamet, and Bizerte including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period 

Room & Board:$2,600

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Tunis), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay family.
  • Homestay (seven weeks in Tunis).
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay family. 

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: Not yet available.

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $200

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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