A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘college’ Category

Americans abroad – but not often

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 21, 2009

One of the many A’s I know in the Arab world, Andrew Mills, has written a very interesting article on the findings of a recent IIE report on the extremely low number of American college students who study abroad in the Arab world for a semester or year.

I’m pasting A’s article in its entirety, as well as its link to the report (one caveat: the report is a fairly bulky pdf), because I think we do need to encourage more students to study in the Arab world and the Middle East more broadly, and we need to encourage universities to work with their counterparts in the region to develop meaningful study-abroad programs. Americans abroad can be wonderful bridges: if each student talks about his or her experiences abroad to 50 American friends and family, and talks about his or her American life to 50 people in his or her study abroad country, and each of those people talks to one other person about what they learned from the study-abroad student, that’s 200 people with a new appreciation for a foreign country, culture, and way of life.

I’ll climb off my soapbox and give you the article now – enjoy!

Report Highlights Challenges of Expanding Study-Abroad Opportunities in the Middle East

Enrollment in Middle East studies and Arabic-language programs on American college campuses continues to rise, yet the number of American students who spend time studying in the Middle East remains low, according to a white paper issued this week by the Institute of International Education.

The report, “Expanding U.S. Study Abroad in the Arab World: Challenges and Opportunities,” grew out of a workshop held last year for representatives of American and Middle Eastern universities that looked at ways to expand study-abroad opportunities in the Arab world.

Participants attributed the small presence of American students at Arab institutions to several key factors. They include deep concerns among American students over safety in the Middle East, questions among American administrators over the academic quality of many Arab institutions, and the challenges inherent in Arabic-language instruction.

Of the American students who enroll in for-credit study-abroad programs, only one percent of them—just 2,200 students—study at institutions based in the Arab world, the report notes. What’s more, 80 per cent of those students are concentrated in three countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.

The report says that most American colleges grant credit for relatively few study-abroad programs in the Middle East, usually only for those they manage or those that are closely affiliated with other American institutions.

The workshop, organized by the institute and the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, convened at Al Akhawayn University, in Ifrane, Morocco, last March. Representatives came from 19 universities in 11 Arab countries. There were also 14 representatives from American colleges and organizations that develop study-abroad programs.

In addition to looking at the causes of low enrollments, participants also tried to come up with some ways to encourage the growth in study-abroad programs in the Arab world. Among other things, they encouraged the development of a consortia of Arab-world institutions to share resources and advice, and to better market themselves to an American audience.

Although the quality of programs offered varies widely across institutions in the Middle East, the report concludes that American college administrators often have unrealistic expectations that a quality study-abroad program will exactly match American curricula. The academic culture at Arab institutions may be quite different—placing an emphasis on memorization over critical thinking—yet to reject partnerships because of that, the report states, defeats the larger goals of study abroad, such as exposing students to a different way of life.

Fears About Safety
But by far, the biggest barriers to the expansions of study-abroad programs, the report notes, relates to their safety and security in a region where attacks on Westerners—no matter how statistically infrequent—remain a huge concern.

American educators’ perceptions of the situation often vary significantly from those of their Arab counterparts, the report says.

For example, all of the American participants in the workshop said that students’ and parents’ concerns about safety in Arab countries “hindered their institutions from sending more students to the region, and nearly three-quarters of these participants identified this issue as a ‘great challenge.’”

But more than half of the participants from the Arab world said that ensuring the safety of more Americans would “not be a challenge at all.”

In fact, the preconceived ideas that many American students have about Middle Eastern culture—not to mention their cultural missteps—remain a huge challenge when Arab universities attempt to integrate them into the classroom.

“Students should not expect that survival strategies that they have employed in other challenging situations will necessarily work well for them to adjust to life in the Arab world,” the report says.

Students who travel to the Middle East seeking Arabic-language instruction also face great difficulty tackling the language itself, which is extremely complex and has many dialects. Vastly different dialects are used in formal situations as compared to casual conversation, and dialects change drastically from country to country. American students who may have spent years studying Modern Standard Arabic at their home campuses often find much of what they have learned is useless when they arrive in the Arab World, the report says.

“Drawing on these considerations, workshop participants emphasized the need for students and their sending institutions to make strategic choices about Arabic study in the region,” the report says.


Posted in academia, Americans, Arab world, college | 3 Comments »

a venti of Zionism, extra hot: Starbucks and Israel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 17, 2009

I saw that protesters closed one of the Starbucks in Beirut this week, my father said after he and my mother picked me up at the Seattle airport. Did we pass that one when we visited?

They definitely did – I took them on a full tour of Hamra. But we didn’t stop at any Starbucks during their visit to Beirut – the Starbucks franchises in Lebanon used to drive me nuts. First, because of their unapologetically erratic tea supply, and second, because of the lack of milk at the milk station. At Lebanon’s Starbucks, the only way to get milk in your tea or coffee is to ask for it when you order – and then ask for it again when the barista makes your drink, since the message never seems to get passed otherwise. Nor does the order-taker ask you whether you would like milk. Sigh.

But at least Lebanon has Starbucks, so I could order a venti to go whenever I needed a portable shot of caffeine in a jumbo size. Guess what country doesn’t have a Starbucks? Not even one?


I understand that Starbucks did partner with a local company to open a few franchises there in the early 2000s, but they failed: not enough customers. Meanwhile, the Arab world is filled with Starbucks outlets.

Maybe Howard Schultz is an ardent Zionist, but it 1) doesn’t seem to have gotten in the way of the company’s business focus and 2) doesn’t seem to have driven Israelis to patronize his shops.

The wide currency of the belief that he donates 5, 10, or 15% of the company’s profits to Israel (in a publicly traded company?) meant that Starbucks issued an official “Rumor Response” on January 5, long before the Beirut dozens decided to gather on Hamra. The response stated:

Rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company and its management support Israel are unequivocally false.

Starbucks is a publicly traded company with stores in 49 countries. Though our thousands of partners (employees) and business associates around the globe have diverse views and share many beliefs about a wide range of topics, our primary focus remains to deliver the best customer experience possible. Starbucks is a non-political organization and does not support political causes. Further, the political preferences of a Starbucks partner at any level have absolutely no bearing on Starbucks company policies.

I’m perfectly willing to protest the fact that Lebanon’s Starbucks miss the boat when it comes to adding milk, because I have proof. I’ve looked into the Schultz/Zionism connection, and while he seems to be an observant (Reform) Jew who has been to Israel, he doesn’t appear to be rabidly Zionist. (If he were, why open so many Starbucks outlets around the Arab world?) Before I boycott the company, I would like to see the paper trail.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, college, economics, Israel, Lebanon, news, rumors | 15 Comments »

Beirut by any other name: beer pong debates in Lebanon?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 28, 2007

Last night I saw The Queen with Charles (who wrote about our fellow movie goers at Chou – infijar?). I tend to drag my feet at going to the cinema but the film was quite good. Charles proved to be a very amiable cinema companion, although he did insist on our finding “our” seats, despite the almost total emptiness of the theatre. I understood, though – I like to be anchored, too.

The best part of the Tuesday movie night might have been the walk home. We walked west on “Charles’s street”, Avenue Charles Malik, whose other name, Hikmeh (Wisdom), referenced a character trait that was not our strong suit. Walking through downtown was easy, but getting back to the west side involved several rather undignified fence and guard rail scalings. The city was beautiful by night, though, as it always is. We both deeply regretted our camera-less states.

BEFORE all this, though, I went for drinks in Gemmayze with G – a delightful evening of laughter and wide-ranging conversation. Our talk took a sudden turn from politics to sports, about which I know nothing. I soon learned that the owner of the vodka & seven keeping company with my Ksara rouge was quite an expert in … table tennis.

Wait. Do you mean ping pong? I asked, sitting up in my seat. Fantastic, I thought. Now my darkest, most potentially awkward question about life in Beirut can finally be answered.

Err, I began eloquently. So … you know … I mean … do you … do people … does one … mmm … is beer pong played here at all?

You mean ping pong, but with beer? G asked. How does that work, exactly?

Mmmm, I replied, Its a game of doubles with cups of beer and with funny distinctions made about hitting the rim versus sinking the ball into the cup. Oh, and … there’s a variation, called beirut.

Wikipedia, the current go-to site for relatively accurate first-dip research, has a brief post on beer pong here, although it lists beirut as an alternate name for the same game.

When I was in school, beirut was a slightly different game, involving more cups and no paddles. “Pyramids” of plastic cups half-filled with beer were placed on each side of the net, and players competed by attempting to “sink” the ball into a cup.

Why “beirut”? Because the sinking was like the fall of a missile, or a bomb. Hence the awkwardness: US college students have co-opted the site of a long, brutal, and bloody civil war for Thursday latenights.

I have for a long time wondered whether beirut the game had entered the consciousness of twenty- and thirty-something American raised Lebanese (and also whether they found it funny, or offensive). Wondered, but been too shy to ask until G’s fortuitous table tennis side showed itself.

*** I should note that as a non beer-drinker, beer pong and beirut were games I watched from the sidelines. White Russian or Midori Sour pong would have been more to my sweet-tooth tastes.

Also, things seem to have changed since my college days. Judging from the recent spate of articles in college newspapers and college oriented websites, beirut has become the standard form of beer pong. See for example Beer Pong vs. Beirut, or Naming the Game: Beer Pong or Beirut.

Posted in Americans, beer, Beirut, college, friends, garbage, news, words | 3 Comments »