First Oman Semester group to begin studies

The first group of students to study in Northwestern College’s Oman Semester will leave for the Middle Eastern country Jan. 18. Six students will participate in the semester-long program.

“The Oman Semester is designed to introduce students to the Middle East and the Muslim world, with a focus on Oman as a country that welcomes interfaith dialogue,” says Dr. Doug Carlson, Northwestern’s associate dean for global education.

The program is offered in conjunction with the Al Amana Centre, an ecumenical center that seeks to build bridges of understanding and trust between Christians and Muslims. The Al Amana Centre is rooted in mission work of the Reformed Church in America that dates back to 1893.

The Rev. Doug Leonard, director of the Al Amana Centre, will lead the Oman Semester and teach a course on Muslim-Christian relations. Students will also study Arabic, take a course with Omani students at Sultan Qaboos University, and pursue a research project in their area of interest under the oversight of a senior-level government official.

“We’re all aware of the tensions between the Western world and Muslim world today,” says Carlson. “For our students to be immersed in Middle Eastern culture and interact extensively with Omanis will be not only life-changing personally, but will also facilitate the larger goal of greater understanding. They will encounter Islam not as a theoretical religion but as something new friends of theirs practice.”

The Oman Semester is based in Muttrah, the old part of the capital city of Muscat. Students will also travel within Oman to ride camels, climb the Wahiba sand dunes and swim in the blue-green wadis.

Leonard, the program’s director, is ordained in the Reformed Church in America and served the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown in New York before becoming director of the Al Amana Centre. He earned a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary and has studied Arabic at the Qasid Institute in Amman, Jordan.

While this is the first Northwestern group to study for a semester in Oman, sociology professor Scott Monsma has led a group of students on Christmas-break study in the country three times since 2004.

The Oman Semester is Northwestern’s second semester-long study abroad program, joining one that’s been operating in Romania since 2007. “Each of the groups that have gone to Romania has developed a unique sense of community and come back with new perspectives on how they should live in light of their cross-cultural experiences,” says Carlson. “I’m confident the Oman group will develop the same kind of community and be similarly impacted as they encounter a very different environment.”