Study Abroad: A Muscat Sojourn Diary

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At the end of last spring semester, I was blessed with the opportunity to study Arabic in Oman, a country in the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. I applied for and won two awards, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Queens College Study Abroad scholarship, to study the Arabic language at the Center for International Learning in Muscat, Oman.

I am forever indebted to Professors Lan Kim (Korean), Hala Abdelghany (Arabic) and Serenity Young (Asian History), for their recommendations. I wouldn’t have been able to win without their recommendations. My essay would never have been good enough without the constructive criticism from my Gilman adviserDr. Moira Egan, in Honors Hall. Professor Abdelghany greatly encouraged me to study Arabic by letting me audit her winter-intensive Arabic 101 class and 102 in the spring. Professor Kim generously took the time to simply talk to me whenever she could about my goals. I loved her Korean class.

Two other advisers were absolutely critical in putting my Gilman scholarship application together: Mr. Mohamed Tabrani, the director of the Queens College Study Abroad program; and Ms. Rhonda Bloch from the Financial Aid Office. I would not have gone anywhere without their advice and actual approval of my online application. Helen Gaudette, Director of the Office of Global Education Initiatives was very supportive.

The Queens College Study Abroad scholarship allowed me to buy my plane ticket. My Gilman funds actually did not come in until after I came back from Oman. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem thanks to the generosity and compassion of people like Huzaim Mohamed Al Manei, Anna Gezelius and Natasha Phillips of the Center for International Learning.

The Gilman staff, particularly Yahaira Verdejo, worked diligently with me throughout the process to make sure everything worked out in the end. I want to say thank you, to Ms. Esther Smolar in the Office of Honors and Scholarships, for helping me. I hope I am forgiven if I haven’t mentioned anyone else who also helped me.

Oman is one of the countries that comprised vital links in the long journey from east to west and vice versa that came to be known as the Silk Road —visited by the legendary Moroccan world traveler Ibn Battuta — valuable trade routes that crossed over land and sea. The vast Omani maritime trade empire itself spanned the vast distance from India to East Africa. By some amazing coincidence I was fortunate to study this in Professor Young’s East Asian Civilization class in the spring.

I was accepted into the Center for International Learning in Muscat. The teachers and staff, as well as other Omani people I encountered, did their best to make me feel safe and welcomed. It was an unforgettable experience of warm hospitality and human kindness. I hope to return there someday in the future to possible teach English.

I believe every student should have the experience of encountering different languages, cultures and people in other countries. I have won other awards as well. But this was my first award to go abroad–I haven’t won every time I applied, but it has been worth the effort. I hope to share my experiences with the readers of QC Voices in order to encourage them to do the same.

I know that many students that attend Queens College are actually from other countries. It’s one of the reasons why I love QC so much. The first impression I got of Oman when my plane arrived early in the morning was the sight of hazy sandy land that I peered out at from my window seat. My eyes were practically glued to the window since leaving Paris.

We had passed over European and other Middle Eastern lands I had only read about and have longed to visit.

Hot, in one word, in two words, very hot, is the impression that first hit me in the face like being kissed the dessert itself–welcoming me in a caring but smothering embrace. I would come to know this feeling well for most of my stay. I came to learn about the amazing history of Oman and pride that the Omani people had in their king and country.

On the first day of my arrival I experienced incredible Omani kindness and hospitality from a woman at the Travelex visa desk, Ms. Siddiqa Ahmed. She gave me my visa even though I couldn’t pay for it at the time. It’s a long story. Let it suffice to say that my finances were tied up.

She simply told me to come back and pay her the next day. Thanks to the staff at CIL, she was repaid the next day. I was and still am dumbfounded. I couldn’t conceive of anything like that happening at an airport in the United States.

I was struck by the way the people looked physically like my family and friends across the African Diaspora–some having kinky hair, and dark to golden complexions. I found that the Omani people were same as any people anywhere. They worried about their future, education, jobs and children. I even found out a place to dance Salsa (mainly at two hotels)–which belied the stereotype of strict Muslim culture.

I was told that young Omanis got loose at the hotels–and that unfortunately alcohol might be a burgeoning problem in the society hidden for the time being.

One of the most ubiquitous sights were the short and very tall date trees on sidewalks, street corners and people’s personal yards. The tops of the trunks were loaded with the sweet chewy fruit for most of my stay. The hotel staff laid them out with the traditional Arabic coffee for anyone to partake while they sat down on a red patterned low pillowed sofa in the lobby by the front desk (Husin Al Khaleej Hotel Apartments).

My family was worried about me going to Middle East because of all the horrible news that dominates the media. But I was only ever treated with kindness and respect by all the Omani people I met and had the pleasure to converse with. I only wish I could have stayed longer. If it is in the cards, Inshallah, I will return to explore all the places in Oman that I wasn’t able to go.

Fitzcard Reid is a student at Queens College.

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