Northwestern College to launch Oman Semester

A year after Northwestern College launched its first semester-long study abroad program, the college is planning to add another one.

Beginning next academic year, the Oman Semester will provide the opportunity for eight students to study Arabic, Christian-Muslim relations, and a choice of courses at an Omani college. The curriculum also includes an independent research course, directed by a former senior-level government official who can offer students access to a variety of resources.

“The program is built around extensive interaction with Omanis,” says Michael Bos, director of Al Amana Centre, an ecumenical center that seeks to build bridges of understanding and trust between Christians and Muslims. “In addition to taking classes with Omani students, the Northwestern students will have numerous opportunities to engage with Omanis throughout the country.”

Bos, who will serve as director, has been in the Middle East for eight years, cultivating relationships with a variety of Omanis.

“Michael is an accomplished diplomat, sensitive to the culture and the Islamic faith,” says Dr. Doug Carlson, Northwestern’s associate dean for global education. “Because of those virtues he is welcomed by Oman’s officials, and when he proposed a semester program for our students, the idea was well-received. He will be an excellent guide for our students to experience Oman, its culture and people, and Islam.

“Through Michael’s work and connections,” says Carlson, “our students will have unparalleled access into Omani culture and society, be able to meet and interact with Omani citizens, and will do research that will contribute to our knowledge of that country. We know of no similarly-connected study program in that part of the world.”

Bos says Oman is unique in the Persian Gulf because it’s a very traditional nation with a high percentage of nationals to expatriates. In most other Gulf states, foreigners outnumber locals.

“It’s definitely a non-Western culture. It’s modern and open but very traditional. Students will develop a whole new perception of who they are as citizens of the world, and they will experience what it’s like to be a sojourner with others from around the world. It will be faith-deepening,” says Bos.

Sociology professor Scott Monsma has led a group of Northwestern students on a Christmas-break tour of Oman three times since 2004. Last year he coordinated a similar trip by faculty and staff. Each trip has been developed in conjunction with Bos, an ordained Reformed Church in America minister and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Exeter.

The Oman Semester joins Northwestern’s Romanian Semester, which combines cross-cultural learning, theory about social development, practice, service, and adventure education from a base in the economically depressed coal-mining region of the Jiu Valley. Six students participated in that program last semester.