I didn’t know what to expect when I flew into the Middle East for Preview. Sweltering heat? Conflicts with religion? Impending danger?
Arcadia’s Preview is an optional program that allows first-year and transfer students to travel abroad during spring break, and this was the first time students had the opportunity to explore the Middle East. When I told my family that I was going to Muscat, Oman as part of the “Explore Oman: Culture, History and Archaeology in the Gulf Region” course, I was met with explosive opposition. “You’re crazy,” they said. “Why don’t you go to Europe instead?”
I have family in Italy and have been overseas a few times. As beautiful as it is in Europe, I wanted to try something new. Given the opportunity to visit so many places across the globe, why would I pick the most familiar? So few Americans have the opportunity to do what we, first-year college students, could do. They avoid these ventures out of fear, but travel opens your mind. I wanted to open my eyes to a culture I didn’t yet understand.
I had allowed other people’s doubt infest my mind and make me believe I had made a poor decision. Yet, besides the long hours of travel leading up to our safe landing in the capital city of Muscat, there was nothing that made me regret my choice. Their fears were unfounded. What I experienced in the Middle East far exceeded my expectations, from the overwhelming Omani hospitality, to witnessing the practice of Ibadism (a school of Islam dominant in Oman), to cliff diving in the Wadi Shab canyon.
Being abroad offers so many opportunities, and I found that Preview was a bonding experience unlike any other. I got to know people quickly, even though previously I only had one friend in the class. We all shopped together in the traditional souq. One of my new friends mastered haggling prices for our soft-spoken classmates. We hiked together. I can’t even remember how many times I fell on this trip, and how many people worried about me as a result. During our flooded hiking expedition into Wadi Shab, I fell into the water three times. I was pulled out of the water three times. “Lana, watch where you walk!” I was hoisted, grabbed, and rescued more than once, but seeing everyone take care of each other was one of my more heartwarming college experiences.
Not only did I have the adventure of a lifetime, but I learned. Under several very well-versed tour guides (thank you, Jeff and Maggie Rose, Fahad, and Katy), we engaged in the culture and understood the history of the land we traversed. Not once did I feel threatened by my surroundings. I came home with an intense desire to break down the stereotypes that have developed in recent years. An entire culture should not be shunned because of extremists.
When I returned to the United States, I came back down to Earth, in a sense. I saw some of my friends, and they asked about my trip. They made jokes about the culture, crudely talking about things they really didn’t understand. Too late I realized that not everyone could overcome these ingrained stereotypes. I suddenly recognized how unaware they were. They couldn’t gain the understanding that I had acquired without experiencing such a trip themselves.
Because Islamophobia is disappointingly prevalent, the positivity I experienced can’t exactly be passed on by word of mouth. I want to tell my story, because I don’t want people to think I was thrust into a Middle Eastern version of Survivor and was left to fend for myself for a week. I don’t want future freshmen to be too afraid to go to Oman for Preview, because their experience will be anything but scary.
You can’t force people to understand, but you can try to help them. I feel like it’s my responsibility to share how amazing the trip was so that, in my own little way, I can make somewhat of a difference. I can at least try to open a few eyes.