Thousands of miles away from home, Sarah Moustafa ’11, Abdulrahman Nasser Al-Amri ’08 and D’or Seifer ’10 each bring unique perspectives to campus: from Qatar, Oman and Israel, respectively. All three students have positive opinions regarding President Michael Roth’s internationalization plan and agree that the University needs to expand course offerings focusing on the Middle East.
At the beginning of her freshman year, Moustafa noticed the small population of students from the Middle East. She approximates that she has met five other students from the region. Moustafa is excited at the prospect of Roth’s proposal to double the international student population.
“On the world scheme of things, Wesleyan is not that diverse,” Moustafa said. “I would really, really love to see [Roth’s proposal] happen. The international community here is very vibrant, but it’s mainly from one part of the world. I would love to see more students from the Middle East… At this time in the world I think the more students from the Middle East, the better.”
Al-Amri hopes that more University students will be interested in studying in the Middle East and wants to discuss the option of a student exchange with Roth before he returns to Oman.
“I encourage the idea to send students from the Middle East here and Wesleyan students to the Middle East,” Al-Amri said.
Leaving their homes, families and friends to come to Wesleyan, each of these students has had unique experiences and found some things that they didn’t expect to find.
Seeing Moustafa sitting in Pi Café and drinking a Chai Latte, you wouldn’t know that since the age of ten she has called Doha, Qatar home. Moustafa was born in Fresno, Calif. and lived in the U.S. until age 10, when her father took a job in Qatar. Although the University does not consider Moustafa to be an international student, she says that she relates better to students from abroad than those from the U.S. Moustafa attended high school at The American School of Doha and, when college application time came around, American college counselors at her school helped her identify liberal arts schools with strong science programs. Wesleyan fit this description, and Moustafa boarded a flight from Qatar to Connecticut.
“The second I stepped on this campus, I knew I had to go here,” Moustafa said. “I was the only person in the whole country who applied to Wesleyan last year. I don’t think the word’s out enough for Wesleyan.”
Moustafa immediately noticed how University students enjoy discussing and sharing opinions on topics ranging from sex to politics.
“Wesleyan in particular is in your face,” Moustafa said. “Qatar is a highly religious and conservative place. Even though I am a liberal person, I grew up in that atmosphere.”
Students haven’t been afraid to ask Moustafa questions ranging from the geographical location of Qatar to the safety of the region. Moustafa admits that her father has hesitations about letting her study abroad in other parts of the Middle East, and she attributes his hesitancy to the image that the American media has created.
To the southeast of Qatar lies the country of Oman, which is home to graduate student, Fulbright Scholar and Arabic language Teaching Assistant Al-Amri, who is nearing the end of his one-year stay at the University.
“It’s very cold in the winter,” observed Al-Amri, who stepped foot on American soil for the first time at the beginning of this academic year.
Al-Amri heard about the University from another Omani student who had studied here last year. The transition to American life has had its difficulties.
“I like traditional food,” said Al-Amri who has had to adjust to Usdan fare.
Like Moustafa, Al-Amri has faced his share of questions from students and has noticed some holes in students’ knowledge.
“Most students don’t know the countries in the Middle East besides Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
Being open and willing to speak about their homes and cultures is something that all three students have in common.
Before coming to the University, where she is now the Vice President of the Alpha Delta Phi Society, Seifer, a native of Tel Aviv, Israel, spent two years serving in the Israeli Army. This experience often draws questions from other students.
“I wanted to do a meaningful army service away from home,” Seifer said. “I wanted an intense experience.”
Seifer served as a Youth Battalion Commander. She was responsible for working with 17-year-olds who were going to join the service when they turned 18. She was involved in tasks ranging from teaching how to use M16s to leading discussions on morals and what it means to carry a gun.
“I was sort of like their drill sergeant,” Seifer said.
After her service ended, Seifer received $2,500, which she applied towards her education.
“Because I come from a bicultural home, I was very curious about what it would be like to live in the States,” Seifer said.
After being accepted to the University, Seifer met with a University dean who happened to be traveling in Tel Aviv.
“I dropped everything else and decided to go to Wesleyan,” Seifer said.
During her first year at Weslyan, Seifer noticed an unattended bag outside under a bench. Her reaction was to immediately call Public Safety.
“In Israel you don’t take any chances with anything,” Seifer said.
A rabbi who was walking by noticed the situation and reassured Seifer that “there are no bombs here.” Seifer explained that unattended bags in Israel are immediately reported to the authorities and usually blown up.
“I see the political situation as something that can’t be solved in the short term,” Seifer said. “It’s a complex situation. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong.”
Seifer fears the one-sided views that can become associated with the conflicts taking place in Israel.
She thinks the University needs to offer more courses for students to understand the conflict.
“If they want to understand the Middle East, they need more than [the current offerings],” Seifer said.
With a decision from the Mellon Foundation coming in June about funding the University to begin planning a Middle East Studies Program, only time will tell when and if the plan will come to fruition.