Emmett Potts, an AMIDEAST scholarship winner, studied with the Intensive Arabic program in Oman over the summer of 2014. In his end of term scholarship essay, he reflects about some highlights from his time in Oman. All photo credit goes to Emmett Potts.
On the night of June 12th, I was about to land at Muscat International Airport on Gulf Air Flight 566 from Bahrain. Although the past day of travel was not much more than a blur, a blend of unsettled thoughts and diffuse excitement enveloped my mind as I looked down from my window at the scarcely outlined coast of the Persian Gulf. Did I bring everything the packing list recommended? Would I adjust to life in this new environment smoothly? Would I be able to communicate efficiently? Trying to maintain a façade of composure, I discreetly tried to review my Arabic vocabulary words, although in reality my behavior was probably more frantic than I realized.
The man sitting next to me on my flight, an Omani citizen, apparently noticed my internal tension and offered me a drink of his water. Without thought, I immediately responded (in Arabic) with “No, no thank you,” just as I was taught by my Arabic language professor in the United States; it was the proper, culturally sensitive response. I was, however, offered the water again by the man next to me: “My friend, please have a drink. I insist. It is good for you.” I relented, and with quivering hands graciously drank the water he had poured into my flimsy plastic cup. “Welcome to Oman, my friend,” he said, as the orange lights from coastal Muscat came into view below.
To my delight, the entirety of my experience in Oman followed the same tenor as I had felt in those brief few moments before my plane touched down. Everywhere I traveled, whether it be Mutrah, Nizwa, Salalah, Qurm, Qantab, al-Jebel al-Akhdar, Wadi al-Shab, or my home city, Muscat, was made memorable by the people I met, and their unfailing kindness and hospitality. It was also through this same kindness and hospitality, coupled with academic rigor, that made my AMIDEAST experience an educational success. During my two months in Oman, I learned the Arabic language at a rate that I previously thought was impossible, and I now can speak at a level of fluency that still surprises me (and my professor at my home institution). The professors at AMIDEAST created an engaging and personal learning environment that made language acquisition easy and enjoyable, and I owe to them whatever future strides I make with the Arabic language.
Since my return to the United States a month ago, the two most common questions I have received have been, “Why go to a place as dangerous as the Middle East?” and “Are you fluent in Arabic?” My response to both questions has been largely the same: to understand Oman, its people, and their language and culture, you must travel there. You must travel to Oman to truly challenge the prevailing stereotype of the Middle East as a place of unforgiving people and landscapes. I still see in my mind’s eye the red sun setting over Mutrah as the call to prayer resounds over the corniche. I still feel the mist of the khareef in Salalah on my sun-beaten face. And I can still hear the muffled chatter of robed men on the lively streets of Muscat after dark, and the friendliness and warmth in the voice of the man who offered me water on my flight to there. These romantic memories of my (sixty) Arabian nights are but a few that exemplify the beauty of the people and culture of Oman, which echoes in the country’s breathtaking natural landscapes and hallowed historical sites.
Thus, reading about the political complexities of the Middle East or merely knowing how to communicate in the Arabic language, from my perspective, fails to provide understanding of this immense beauty that exists in Oman and that will forever fill my dreams. My advice to anyone who wishes to understand is, again, remarkably simple: go there. You will not be disappointed.