Name: Hunter McDaniel
Location of Study: Muscat, Oman
Program of Study: Center for International Learning
A brief personal bio:
My name is Hunter McDaniel, and I am a rising junior at Notre Dame double majoring in History and Arabic. I have always been interested in the Middle East, but I have only studied Arabic since the beginning of my freshman year at Notre Dame. Even though Arabic has been one of my most challenging college pursuits; I am very excited to spend my summer in Oman, hopefully the first of many trips to the Middle East.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA grant will make a tremendous impact on my future personally as well as in my career. I see this summer program as a vital step in my pursuit of fluency, and I am excited to begin to use the skills I have acquired in the classroom in a real-world setting. This opportunity will allow me to develop an important level of cultural competency and understanding that is essential in effective language learning. Following graduation from the University of Notre Dame, I plan on continuing my study of the Arab world and the Arabic language. Whether my academic path takes me to law school or some other graduate school, I am confident that this grant will make me much stronger candidate in the application process as well. I will be able to use this experience as a stepping stone toward a much more in depth and concrete study of Arabic and of the Arab world. Building a firm understanding of the Middle East can only come with personal experience in the region, and spending significant time abroad will be the first step on this long journey.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
The primary reason that I will be spending my summer abroad will be the unparalleled opportunity to grow in my understanding of and confidence with the Arabic language. But more importantly, I see this summer experience as a chance to interact with a culture and a world so far from my home. Not only will this experience help me to understand the Middle East better but it will also help me to grow as a person. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to live and study in a foreign country, learning Arabic in an intensive setting while also gaining insight into a completely foreign culture.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Arabic with native speakers on a variety of new topics, especially religion.
- At the end of the summer, I will have a significantly more advanced appreciation for Arab culture, an appreciation that could only come from living in the Arab world.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write and listen at a level of proficiency equal to two semesters beyond my current Arabic coursework placement at Notre Dame.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate with much more confidence in the Arabic language.
- At the end of the summer, I will appreciate Omani culture for both its similarities and differences to my home.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
The Center for International Learning offers a variety of community engagement activities designed to facilitate language use that seem interesting.An Evening Lecture Series provides students the opportunity to learn more about Oman and the rest of the Middle East through lectures on cultural and historical topics. I certainly plan on taking full advantage of the optional Peer Facilitators, which will help me to hone my speaking ability with an Omani language partner. Moreover, the CIL offers weekend excursions throughout the country, including a visit to Nizwa (Oman’s former capital), the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, and a hike of the Jebel Akhdar mountains. These excursions offer a great opportunity to experience a foreign countryside and to interact with locals. The city itself also has countless opportunities to learn about the history and culture of Oman, including museums such as Bait Al Zubair, the Muscat Gate Museum, and Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art. I am nervous about being out of my comfort zone, but I know that this will force me to use Arabic and to become more confident in my ability to use it.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
I have just completed my first week here in Muscat, and it is better than I ever could have imagined. Last weekend, after getting picked up at the airport, I was dropped off in the student flats at Al-Khoud, which will be my home for the rest of the summer. On Saturday, the other new arrivals and I were given a tour of Muscat. We got to see Al Alam Palace, the home of Sultan Qaboos, as well as the Muttrah Souq, an enormous marketplace full of anything you could ever want to buy. Before leaving the Souq, we stopped at a juice place. I did not know this before arriving, but Oman has some of the best juices in the world, including lemon mint, mango, and even avocado. Then on Sunday, the first day of the work-week in Oman, we headed over to the Center for International Learning for the first day of classes. They started each student off with an interview in front of three Omani women, my first real test of the language. It was intimidating, but the teachers here are so nice and understanding. The classes are completely draining, four hours each morning of language study! Then in the afternoons, we have two hours a day, three days a week with a peer facilitator, an Omani student who helps us with speaking practice. I honestly can’t believe I have only been here for one week; it feels like I arrived a lifetime ago. I know the coming weeks will provide new challenges and new lessons about this beautiful culture, especially with the beginning of Ramadan tomorrow! I am so excited to continue my amazing first trip to the Middle East.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
After two weeks in Oman, I have already fallen in love with this beautiful country. The classes are extremely difficult, but that seems to be the only way I will be able fully grasp the language. Every morning I have four classes of Arabic: media, grammar, listening and conversation, and reading comprehension. Over the course of two weeks here, I have already had the same number of contact hours as a full semester in the United States. I seem to be slowly gaining the confidence I need to converse in this very difficult language.
While the language is the reason I’m here, the best part of this trip so far has easily been the trips out to the country. Last weekend, the center took a group of students on a day trip to Nizwa, the former capital of Oman. We first visited the souq, where I got to witness first hand the bartering of prices over goats. We then went to the famous Nizwa Fort before heading out to the picturesque Misfat al Abreyeen, a small village outside of Nizwa where we spent some time exploring the natural beauty of ancient Oman.
In addition, I spent this past weekend traveling to the Ras al Jinz turtle reserve just south of Sur, a city about four hours away from Muscat. On the way to Sur, the group stopped at Hawiyat Najm, a sinkhole where we swam for about two hours. Easily my favorite place in Oman so far, the sinkhole is like an oasis in the middle of the desert, and it was so refreshing and beautiful that I simply never wanted to leave. Once we finally made it to the turtle reserve, I was blown away once again by the beauty of this country. We actually got to see massive turtles lay their eggs on the beach, cover them with sand, and make their way back out to the Indian Ocean!
I have already done so much in Oman that it seems I have been here for a lifetime. I can’t believe I only have five more weeks here. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to this place as well as the new friends that I have made. I am going to make the most of the time I have left here and will post again with more life-changing experiences in another week.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Another week has already flown by. It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been here for three full weeks! This week was much like the last, another twenty plus Arabic contact hours in addition to private conversations with my peer facilitator. It seems that the hours in the classroom are starting to pay off. I am learning so much and gaining the confidence that I need in order to speak well. In my conversation class, we cover topics from Pope Francis, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and honor killings, stretching my vocabulary to the limits and forcing me out of my comfort zone. Moreover, I try to use the language as much as possible outside of the classroom. Taxi drivers here love it when foreigners even try to speak to them in their native language, and I even try to order my food at restaurants in Arabic as well. I may have gotten the wrong order once or twice because of the language barrier, but nothing could sour the chance to use Arabic as much as possible.
In addition to the language, I am learning so much about this beautiful culture that I don’t even know how to begin sharing it. Last Tuesday, a group of students and I were invited to Iftar at an Omani home. Iftar is the practice of breaking the fast that occurs each day of Ramadan at sunset. In order to honor this invitation, we decided to share in the fast that day, meaning no food or water from sunrise to sunset. Immediately before sunset, we were treated to a quick introduction to Islam and a recitation from the Qur’an. Breaking the fast with leben, dates, and water with them was an amazing experience. After the Maghrib (sunset) prayer, we finally got to eat a huge meal, and it included everything I possibly could have wanted: chicken, lamb, pastas, salads, humus, bread, fruit juice, ice cream, and so much more. It was an unbelievable experience! Some of us have been invited to another Iftar this week, and I am very much looking forward to the fast and, even more importantly, breaking it.
This past weekend was filled with two more excursions throughout Oman. On Friday (this first day of the weekend here), CIL took a group of students to Al Jebel Al Akhdar, the Green Mountain. Unfortunately during this time of year, it is a lot more brown than green, but the mountain was still beautiful. During the 1950s, the region played host to a war between the imam and the sultan, ultimately ending in the victory of the sultan with the help of the British. While touring some of the abandoned mountain villages that became the focal point of the war, the devastation that this war caused became apparent. Then on Saturday, a small of group of students decided to take a day trip to Wadi Shab, a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert. We drove two hours south of Muscat before hiking another hour in the heat just to make it to the water. And it was completely worth it. We went cliff jumping into the beautiful water and explored the picturesque cave at the end of the trail.
In summary, I am completely loving this country so far. I am just about at the halfway point of my time in class here. It’s amazing how fast the time is flying by. This coming weekend, a few friends and I are traveling to Dubai! I am so unbelievably excited that I can’t even put it into words. I’ll check back in again in another week.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
What a weekend! Because our visas expired after 30 days in Oman, a group of friends and I decided to leave the country this weekend. We chose Dubai, and what a choice it was. As thrifty college students, we decided to take the bus from Muscat to Oman, turning a 45-minute journey by plane into an eight hour painful experience. We finally arrived in Dubai late Thursday night, found our way to the hotel on the Metro, and settled on a late night dinner at Applebee’s, where I had my first hamburger in over a month. The next day we went to the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall, before heading to the beach for sunset. I can now proudly say that I have gone swimming in the Arabian Gulf, though the water was so unbearably hot that I could only stand it for a couple minutes. The next day, we decided to go to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world since its completion in 2010. After some great experiences in Dubai, though, the one that I know I will never be able to forget was the bus ride back to Muscat. We just made it to the bus station before it left at 11:00 PM. After crossing the border back into Oman from the UAE, our bus driver decided he would stop at his house for Suhoor, the last meal before the fast begins each day at sunrise. At 2:00 in the morning in the middle of nowhere, he simply dropped everyone off at a restaurant and promised that he would return in half an hour. It was so ridiculous, and after a weekend with little sleep, all we could do was laugh. He was true to his promise, returning about forty-five minutes later to complete the return trip to Muscat. The round-trip bus fare was only about $24, so I guess we got what we paid for! But now that I am safely back in Oman, I am glad to have survived this experience and to have this memory for the rest of my life.
My two days in Dubai were polar opposite to my month in Oman. Dubai is a modern city in every sense of the word. Ramadan certainly plays a role in Dubai society, but the vast majority of people were Western tourists. The most glaring difference between my Omani experience and my Dubai experience was the food, as my three meals in Dubai were Applebee’s, pizza, and PF Chang’s. In Muscat, my choices are extremely limited, basically ranging from Yemeni to Turkish food. At the end of the day, I am happy to have experienced Dubai. It was disappointing in the sense that it seemed that I had left the Middle East, but I wouldn’t trade the experience I had for anything. Now that I am back in Oman, I will again be forced to use Arabic. I am ready to get back to my routine of classes and study, at least for the coming week. Next week, I will be spending some time in Jordan, Insha’Allah!. It’s hard to believe that I have less than three weeks left in the Middle East, but I promise that I will make the most of my time here.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This past week was easily my favorite of the trip so far. Last Thursday was the last day of class before the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, a week off from school and work throughout the country in celebration of the end of Ramadan. Since we therefore had a nine day break from Arabic classes, a couple other guys and I decided to visit another part of the Middle East and expand our horizons even more. On Saturday night, we took off for Amman, Jordan, where we stayed in an extremely cheap hotel overlooking the famous Roman Theater, and experienced the first night of the holiday. The thing about the hotel that has stuck with me was the fact that there quite a few families from Gaza living as refugees in the hotel. Not to take sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but seeing the innocent faces of Palestinian children who had been forced to leave their homes in order to escape possible death was extremely powerful.
In spite of the current conflict in Gaza, the other guys and I followed through on our plans to visit the Holy Land. Not only was this one of the best things I have done on this trip, it was also one of the best experiences of my entire life. Before visiting, we made sure that we were not in any danger, speaking with friends in both the West Bank and Jerusalem. And I am so happy that we went through with it! In a little over twenty-four hours in Jerusalem, we were able to see the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Hands down one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done was attending Mass inside of the Tomb of Christ. Seeing the interactions between all three faith traditions, topped off by practicing my own faith within the tomb of Jesus, was just so cool. We were also able to go into Bethlehem and visit the birthplace of Christ. And while seeing all these sites was beyond amazing, the process of crossing from Jerusalem into the West Bank and back was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Regardless of affiliation to Israel or Palestine, the fact that some people are forced to live their whole lives behind a huge wall was hard for me to stomach. Passing through the checkpoint was easy for me, but it is almost impossible for anybody with somewhat darker skin, as evidenced by the difficulties that one of my travel companions was forced to go through at every checkpoint. The fact that soldiers, whether in uniform or not, were carrying around automatic weapons next to some of the holiest sites in the world very hard to take, and hopefully something changes in the near future.
While Amman was absolutely beautiful as well, we unfortunately did not have enough time to see all that I wanted to see. With the little time we actually had in Jordan, we went to the Roman Theater and walked around the old parts of the city. But beyond that, we simply ran out of time. Hopefully in the future, I will be able to go back and visit Petra, the Dead Sea, and some of the other famous Jordanian historical sites. Overall, however, I am very happy with my decision to travel this week. Oman is an amazing place, but this was an opportunity to expand my horizons and experiences even more. In the future, I would like to visit even more of the Middle East, growing in love and respect for this region with each and every step.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: