Stanford Optimistic About Study Abroad in Middle East

Prospects for a Middle East Program

With Middle Eastern affairs flooding the media, student curiosity about the region has risen in recent years. After considering possible hazards and gauging student curiosity, Stanford is now considering establishing a study abroad program in the Middle East.

Leading educational institutions such as Georgetown, New York University, and Carnegie Mellon have already established permanent college campuses in the region.

Undergraduate Senate Representative Deepa Kannappan ’13 believes students would likely see an overseas seminar in the region first. “Historically, [a Bing overseas program has] started off as a three-week seminar,” explained Kannappan.

“Over the course of the three weeks, Stanford faculty members take about fifteen students to a location overseas to study and experience a new culture.

If that is done well, then [administrators] choose to expand it into a quarter long program,” added Kannappan.

“The seminars were removed due to funding cuts about two summers ago,” said Kannappan, “but Provost Etchemendy and Bob Sinclair are currently applying for funding and are confident [enough] about the return of the program to talk about it to elected students at a joint-legislative meeting.”

Director of the Bing Program Bob Sinclair said it will “probably [return] in the late summer of 2012.”

He added, “[The Bing Program] would like to then expand in the year after to one or two places, and start making contacts for as to whether we should consider having a permanent location there.”

Considering Student Safety

Some Middle Eastern countries are known for operating under strict gender and religious societal regulations. The University is taking this into consideration. Sinclair stated, “As far as we’re concerned, gender equality, racial equality, and sexual equality [are] extremely important for our students, so we would not go to a place whereby there would be any restrictions for our students’ expression.”

After acknowledging Stanford’s non-discrimination policy’s application at home and abroad, Kannappan noted, “[Studying abroad is] a personal decision. If you choose to go to Africa, and you don’t look African, but you think you might be discriminated against and you’re not okay with that, then it’s your personal choice not to go there. Study abroad isn’t mandatory.”

However, the concerns surrounding gender and sexuality will not go away anytime soon. Students who identify as homosexual or hold divergent religious views may be hesitant to go. Despite these or any other personal concerns, some students may still decide to make the trip.

“Students’ experience of the Middle East can be highly variable,” said Isaac Bleaman ’12, who recently returned home from a semester abroad in Israel at the Rothberg International School.

Nonetheless, Bleaman said, “The vast majority of people I know would probably recommend it to their friends. I would not necessarily, but I see both sides.

To those who think their personal beliefs and habits might be problematic while abroad in the Middle East, Bleaman cautioned, “You have to know going in what the risks are.” He stressed that the risks “certainly are real. There’s no reason to be naïve. And ultimately it might be better not to go.”

In contrast to Bleaman’s experience, Meredith Wheeler ’14 said her experience in the Middle East “was amazing” and that she would recommend it to her fellow students. “I have absolutely no regrets,” she said.

She spent 10 months working for an NGO in Egypt during a gap year.

As for the potential dangers, she stated that there is “probably nothing you wouldn’t see in any major city.” However, she also said, “When you’re talking about safety, Israel is another question.”

Following Student Interest

Whether to begin a Bing program in Israel will not be an issue because according to Sinclair, an Israel program is not currently an option for Stanford. “There is a State Department travel warning for Israel, so according to Stanford University policy, we are not allowed to set up in that location.”

Locations currently under consideration include Egypt, Dubai, Jordan, Turkey, and Istanbul. But in light of recent unrest in Egypt, the University is hesitant to consider it as a potential program location. “We are looking first at Turkey and Istanbul,” said Sinclair.

“Turkey is striving to become a part of the European community so many of those issues are not as dominant in Turkey as they [would be] in another Islamic country,” he added. Kannappan recently surveyed Stanford students regarding different aspects of undergraduate life. Part of the survey addressed study abroad in the Middle East.

According to student responses, students’ most desired locations included include Egypt, Israel, Dubai, Jordan, and Abu Dhabi, in order of popularity, with Dubai and Jordan tied for third place. However, because Turkey was not included as a response option, relative student interest in Turkey remains unknown.

Based on the 300 survey responses received, 66 percent of respondents would support a program in the Middle East. Approximately 75 percent of those students were current freshmen and sophomores—those students most likely to have the option of attending a program in the region.

But the decision about the program remains far from settled. “Stuff keeps happening [in the Middle East], and it’s not all good stuff. So it will be a lot harder to find a safe place,” said Kannappan.

For students, location matters. An important aspect of a study abroad location is that “you have to balance safe with interesting and useful,” Kannappan added.

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected so as to comply with an on-the-record request and eliminate a potential source of misinterpretation.

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