BOSP to explore Middle East with Turkey seminar

Sept. 20, 2011, 3:56 a.m.
BOSP to explore Middle East with Turkey seminar
(CAROLINE SHEN/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford’s first study-abroad venture in the Middle East will be a three-week summer 2012 seminar in Istanbul, Turkey, according to Robert Sinclair, director of the Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP).

The seminar, in which BOSP will partner with Istanbul’s Koc University, will be part of the reinstated Bing Overseas Seminar program. A group of 12 to 15 undergraduates, led by a faculty member who is an expert on Turkey will take part in an intensive, on-site course, according to Sinclair.

Student interest in a Middle East study-abroad option has been strong, and about half of the students who pursue non-BOSP study abroad options choose to go to the Middle East.

“I’ve met many students on campus who had interest in the region but couldn’t go because not everyone has the ability to make their own way … whether it’s because of safety concerns, financial issues or travel arrangements,” said Khaled Alshawi ’13, a former ASSU senator who advocated for a Stanford program in the Middle East. “It’s a big area that we’re lacking in, especially compared to other top-tier universities.”

Yet safety concerns and funding issues posed obstacles to establishing a Bing program in the region. A survey of 500 undergraduates ranked Egypt and Israel as the top regions of interest, but instability in Egypt and the United States Department Travel Warning on Israel ruled them out as potential sites, according to Sinclair.

“During our planning stages, about 12 or 18 months ago, Turkey was our number one choice for stability reasons, and it’s only been confirmed as a good choice by the events of the year 2011,” Sinclair said.

Samar Alqatari ’14, an ASSU Senator who ran on a platform of increasing global awareness and forging relationships with the Middle East and the Arab world, believes the seminar does not meet the interests of many students who wanted a Middle East program.

Elliot Stoller ’13, co-founder of the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS), is one such student. He will be spending his fall quarter in Jordan through a Middlebury College program, after taking an official leave of absence from Stanford.

“Istanbul is a bridge between the Middle East and Europe,” Stoller said. “Studying there would be a great experience, but it wouldn’t allow for true Middle Eastern immersion.”

The program, however, will strengthen Stanford’s “limited” offerings with regards to the Middle East, according to Lina Khatib, manager of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

“Stanford’s academic engagement with the Middle East is growing and this [seminar] is definitely a step in the right direction to put the Middle East on the map for the Stanford academic community,” Khatib said.

“Istanbul is a vibrant and interesting city, and with the democratic transitions happening in the Arab world right now, I anticipate that there will be opportunities for students to engage in other countries in the region as well,” she added.

The last program BOSP introduced was in Cape Town, South Africa. After gauging student interest and the success of introductory programs, a permanent program was introduced in winter quarter 2009-10. Similarly, the success of the seminar in Istanbul will determine the establishment of a more long-lasting program.

“Even if the seminar is not successful, there should be a move deeper in the Middle East because a program in the Arab world would meet the interests of a different segment of the student body,” Alshawi said.

The Istanbul seminar, along with the four other seminars BOSP will introduce for summer 2012, will be officially announced and open for undergraduate applications at the start of fall quarter.

Marwa Farag is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she was the managing editor of news, managing editor of the former features section, a features desk editor and a news writer.

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