By Marwa Farag
Stanford in Government (SIG) has announced the addition of an international fellowship with the Brookings Doha Center, a project of the Brookings Institution, in Doha, Qatar to its lineup of fellowships for the upcoming summer.
The Doha fellowship, one of six new additions to the lineup, was created in response to high student demand for travel opportunities in the Middle East. Security concerns have long prevented Stanford organizations from sponsoring travel to the Middle East, but for many, Qatar presents an exciting foothold for further opportunities in the region.
“Qatar is one of the safest countries in the region,” said Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies and faculty mentor for the new fellowship. Its advantages include proximity and immersion in Islamic culture and it “is increasingly becoming a center of cultural activity,” he said.
“There’s a significant lack of Middle East experiences available for students, and this is one of the first steps towards changing that,” said Andrew Linford ’11, SIG director of international fellowships.
Indeed, Middle East studies has been an arena in which Stanford has lagged.
“Some universities have had Middle East study programs for almost 800 years in Europe. Some American universities have had such programs for 70 or 80 years,” Milani said. “We are playing catch-up. But there is leadership at Stanford dedicated to making sure this gap is filled.”
SIG partnered with the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) to arrange the fellowship. SIG, a student group, relies on feedback from past fellows to help the organization figure out where it can “plug holes” in the opportunities available on campus.
“Initial communication with the institution is initiated through our faculty advisors,” said Valentin Bolotnyy ’11, chair of SIG. Using e-mail communication primarily, a fellowship is created after committee members research the institution and a faculty member vets the arrangements. SIG allocates a stipend to the fellow, adjusted based on the needs of the particular fellowship, with the intention of covering all expenses for the nine-week duration.
The Doha fellowship requires proficiency in Arabic, a requirement that Milani believes will “boost the quality of the students and make it more possible for the fellowship to be fruitful.”
Bolotnyy and Linford agreed that a background in the Arabic language would enable the fellow to benefit the most from the experience, adding that given the applicants’ interest in Middle East affairs, the language requirement should not pose a problem to most of them.
The goal of the fellowship is to conduct “significant research” on “all the issues happening in the Middle East, and how U.S. politics and policies relate to these issues,” Bolotnyy said.
Elliot Stoller ’13, a second-year Arabic student, described the fellowship in an e-mail to The Daily as “an amazing and unique opportunity to learn about the Middle East through both policy research and cultural immersion.”
“Our fellows will have to rely on their own efforts, there is very little beaten path they can walk on,” Milani said. “That’s one of the challenges and one of the advantages of working on the Middle East…almost the whole arena can be a potential subject for new, innovative research.”
“If you go to D.C., there’s so much that’s been written on how the American government works,” Milani said. “But if you’re going to the Middle East you have to be a little bit of an explorer. You have to have the adventurism, bravura, curiosity and dedication of an explorer.”