Stanford hopes to develop a study abroad program in the Middle East within the next few years, said Robert Sinclair, Robert Burke Family director of the Bing Overseas Study Program. The Bing Program plans to first implement a three-week summer seminar in the region, hopefully in summer 2012, and establish a center and a more extensive program at a future time.
Currently, budget constraints are the main obstacles for the program. Although the host country has not yet been decided, the Bing Program has applied for funding from the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) and expects to hear about the results in a few months, Sinclair said.
“It is my strong hope that this [program] will come about,” Sinclair said. “We prefer sooner rather than later, but that will depend on the budget situation.”
Sinclair also noted that student interest in the program is high, stating that he has received several inquiries about the program’s development from student organizations since the beginning of the year.
“This is obviously a very hot topic right now,” he said.
Lisa Blaydes, an assistant professor of political science who has done significant research on politics in the Middle East, mirrored this sentiment. She stressed the importance of knowing about issues in the region firsthand.
“A presence in the Arab world is important for Stanford, especially considering the many students studying Arabic,” she said.
Blaydes said students are curious about the history, politics and culture of the region. She recognized that some Stanford students find ways to pursue abroad programs or research in the Middle East independent of Stanford, usually by partnering with other American universities. But the addition of a Stanford-specific program would be beneficial, she said.
The recent uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the ensuing violence and tension has affected universities’ engagement in the region. Many universities have taken students out of their programs and home-stays in the country.
Sinclair admitted that Egypt is no longer a real candidate for the site of a Stanford center.
According to Omar Shakir, B.A. ’07, J.D. ’13, the conflict demonstrates the importance of a Stanford presence in the Middle East in the first place. As an undergraduate, Shakir studied abroad and did research for his senior honors thesis in Egypt through a non-Stanford program. While he was able to coordinate his trip relatively easily, he acknowledged the importance of making such an experience more accessible to students.
“It’s an amazing place to be,” he said. “I like the history there…there’s so much to learn.”
Shakir’s interest seems to reflect a growing, nationwide interest in abroad programs located in the Middle East. The number of students from American universities studying abroad in Arabic countries increased 127 percent from 2002 to 2006, according to the online news publication Inside Higher Ed.
Last Friday, Shakir coordinated a demonstration in White Plaza that showed support for the protestors in Egypt opposing Mubarak. He stressed that despite the regime’s use of force, the movement is truly a popular, grassroots endeavor.
Shakir remarked that political conflict in Egypt hasn’t decreased student interest in learning in the country, nor in the Middle East in general. Many other major universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Cornell and Northwestern, have already established study abroad opportunities in the region.