McGlynn, Matthew

Name: Matthew McGlynn
Location of Study: Amman, Jordan
Program of Study: Qasid Insitute
Sponsor(s): Mark Gallogly & Lise Strickler


A brief personal bio:

I am a rising Sophomore at Notre Dame where I am studying computer engineering and considering a possible secondary major in Arabic. I am originally from Denver, Colorado and love to ski, snowboard, and climb. I have had a couple major travel experiences prior to this and am extremely excited to be going abroad again. This will be my first time in Oman and the Middle East. I have been learning Arabic throughout the year and hope to complete my second year while in Oman. Arabic has become the most interesting subject I have studied at Notre Dame and hope to be able to continue my study of it.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

At Notre Dame, I have continually sought an education that is uniquely broad. While many engineers would dread the idea of learning a language instead of more math and science, I have chosen to widen my breadth of understanding and take on the challenge of reconciling two very different subject matters.  I also want an education that instills a different perspective far removed from our own. Arabic to me has been a window into a world I thought I would never understand.  I hope to make a strong volunteer contribution to the region in the future with my unique engineering perspective. Oman will have a great impact on myself as I gain a stronger understanding of culture that I would otherwise lack. With an SLA grant I can continue to pursue this type of course sequence that would otherwise be very difficult. This will be a huge asset to me as a person and for my future career which could possibly take me back to the region.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope this study abroad experience gives me insight into one of the least well known cultures in the world. Oman has only recently become regarded as a significant travel destination and I hope to understand the country and the people the best I can. I anticipate that my experience will be significantly different than that of others going abroad because of the level of cultural difference between Oman and the western world. This I see as a significant opportunity for myself to grow as a person. I expect this country to really challenge myself to acclimate to a different environment. This trip will be integral for my development of Arabic skills as well as my communication skills in general. Additionally, I am truly thrilled to experience a place that is so far from home.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to understand and exchange dialogue with native Arabic speakers in both the MSA fusha as well as the local Omani dialect.
  2.  Through my home stay, I hope to gain a significantly greater understanding of Omani culture and customs as well as those in the Arab world at large.
  3.  By the end of the program, I want to be able to easily communicate enough to get through daily activities without using any English.
  4. By the end of the summer, I hope to formalize a base of Arabic for my future studies that will allow the language to be far more instinctive and natural

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

From day one, I will immersed in both cultural and lingual learning as I test my Arabic skills for the first time with a family as well as navigating the city of Muscat. To truly improve at the language, I will begin by practicing a high level of restraint in using English in everyday situations. To understand the historical and cultural context of Oman better, I will attempt to see as much of the country as possible while enjoying the beautiful geography. The World Learning Center has hosted many cross-cultural dialogues and I hope to participate and learn more about how are very different cultures can understand each other better. I will try to engage in any available opportunities to help with my new community during my home stay.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Arrival Impressions It’s been a pretty amazing first week in Oman as I’ve started to acclimate to the heat, culture, and all the new sights. After leaving my home in Colorado, I spent three days in Dubai and toured around the city which certainly has some incredible sights. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the entire world and it’s nearly impossible to get a picture of. I also went down to go see the Jumirah beach as well as famous Dubai marina. The city is post-modern in many ways and it feels more like the future than the present. Elements of Arab culture harder to find in the city that is dominated by foreign workers and multinational corporations, but it is never to far way. There are mosques in every public building and they are certainly beautiful. After three incredible days in Dubai, it was time to leave Dubai and head to Oman and meet the program coordinators as well as my new homestay family. The flight from Dubai to Muscat is very short, and shortly after takeoff I saw the city through the omni-present obscuring haze that comes from the extreme level of heat. My program coordinators greeted me at the airport; they are truly extraordinarily kind and welcoming people. Shortly afterwards I went to the school for the first time, and met some of my future classmates. After a rough first day of Arabic, I met my new family. There are 3 daughters and a son as well as a house maid that lives in the home. All have been kind to me. This first week of Arabic has certainly been a challenge as I seek to pick up ground on many of my classmates who are more advanced than me in both length of study as well as time in Oman. Hopefully, as time goes by my Arabic will become more smooth and flowing instead of just resorting to using small phrases or words. Family life has so far been great and I continue to bond with host dad.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

I’ve now been in Oman for two weeks and it still feels like everyday I am seeing or learning something new about the culture and the place. Oman is very unique in that it is still largely unvisited by westerners. That, of course, is changing as the Omani government is quickly discovering the potential tourism market for the country and has started tapping into it with the construction of some new westerner-targeted developments. One of these developments has been a great asset to me as it’s a location known by most people and most importantly, cab drivers. Its called ‘The Wave’ or ‘Al-Mouje’ in Arabic. Considering there are no street names in Oman, landmarks are key to explaining where you’re trying to go. Some aspects of taxis are hard to deal with as due to it being a protected profession in Oman, the cab drivers are exclusively Omani and as such they generally only speak Arabic. This gives myself an advantage over other westerners in bargaining fares, but it is always a bummer knowing you are getting cheated to some degree compared to other Omanis. The Center for International Learning typically brings a lecturer every week to speak on aspects of both Omani society and culture and as well culture and news in the Arab world at large. This week we had the pleasure of listening to one of the key economic advisors to the Sultan, and he gave us an interesting description of how Oman is working to build a stronger private sector. Currently, 84% of Omanis work for the government while most of the day-to-day services are conducted by foreign workers mostly from India and Bangladesh. The government is starting to realize that this approach has and will continue to become largely unsustainable. Oil revenues still dominate the economy and despite the government’s efforts to foster small business growth, it is simply intangible growth compared to the size of the resource sector. Due to higher recent oil prices and recent movement into the very profitable liquid natural gas field, the oil revenues are still rapidly increasing. Oman is very fearful of its post-oil future but the sentiment is that with enhanced education and government campaigns to encourage entrepreneurial spirit that they should be able to prepare for a post-oil economy. Daily life is starting to become more and more routine as I develop habits for how I spend free time and as well become more acclimated with the school and the Arabic language in general. I am absolutely enjoying myself and having the opportunity to take part in this experience is something that I am thankful for daily.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

It has been two weeks since my last entry and I must say I have become significantly more familiar with my surroundings outside of the small neighborhood in which I reside. The Center hosts field trips on the weekends to various locations around the country and has been amazing to see the many different facets of Omani life. Last weekend, we headed towards Nizwa the home of a fellow SLA grant recipient, Ian Montijo, to view the souk and the famous forts in the area. At one time in Oman’s extremely long history there was significant conflict between Muscat and some of the interior cities including Nizwa. This was largely due to oil being found in the interior and the Sultanate of Muscat’s desire to extract the oil it claimed was its sovereign property. The interior was ruled by Imamate and it refused to oblige the demands of the Sultan. In the end, it was the Sultan who emerged victorious leading to the current state of affairs. Some of the other interior cities are also quite interesting including Bahla which is famous for its ‘jin’ or ghosts that supposedly haunt the town. We also had the opportunity to visit one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the world. This was a great opportunity to check out some of the profound differences in the utilization of colloquial between the older and younger generations. One of the instructors at the school is origninally from the interior area but has since moved to Muscat. Not only can you tell in his dress, but you can also tell from the way he speaks that he has taken on the more modern and liberal ways of the city. We met an old man who was sitting outside on his porch and he immediately began the long series of Arabic greeting with my instructor. It was incredible to see the level of formality in a conversation among strangers. The Arabic greetings never cease to amaze and it was clear that the older generation of this village spoke Arabic more formally than the younger. Next week, I hope to continue my explorations of the country with a trip down to Sur and a Bedoin camp.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

The last couple weeks in Oman have been filled with more sight seeing as well as an increased focus into Arabic. As I have gained in conversational capacity, the pace of my classes has increased and my classmates are now more advanced than previously. Home life has been very typical, but there have been a few holidays that have allowed me to get to know my immediate host family better as well as having the chance to meet some of the extended family. The day that Sultan Qaboos began governing is celebrated with a nice day off from school and work. I used the time to play some soccer with locals at the nearby beach. For July 4th, the entire group of students in both Nizwa and here in Muscat got together for excellent food and performances. We worked to prepare Arabic skits that would help explain to the Omanis what the holiday was all about. It was great to learn Arabic in such an unusual situation as I am far from an actor. We also heard some beautiful traditional songs from some of the other students. My Arabic learning has become far more diversified as over the course of the program I have started to learn primarily in an outside of the classroom situation. I have continued to accompany my host father on his trips to local places as he works to build his house. He works for Omani Air, the main airline in Oman and will leave to China next week to purchase the materials to build his house. I have made friends with a number of the workers at the construction site and they have provided an excellent resource for me to practice my Arabic with. Additionally, a lot of my learning has come from my friendship with my instructors. For the last week I had personalized instruction with a great teacher and nice guy. He helped me begin to study some of the more advanced grammar and vocabulary that some of the other students have been working on. More important has been our trips around to local restaurants and places outside of school. This has been one of my greatest assets in learning the language. This does not only put me in numerous practical situations, but also because he is a teacher he is able to help me through conversational topics that he knows I may not be as familiar with. Oman has been great so far and might have even cooled down a bit. That, or I have just become too accustomed to the intense heat. In the south of the country there is a city Salalah that experiences something called the khreef, a seasonal monsoon, right at the peak of summer. Due to this abnormality, Salalah becomes a huge destination for tourists from around the region.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

This last week in Oman has felt extremely quick mainly due to the beginning of the month of Ramadan. I must say that Ramadan has presented some unique challenges and although I have not fasted it has still greatly affected my daily life here. For starters everything has different hours. Restaurants of course are closed until sundown and most other businesses are operating on a half-schedule. This has greatly affected my after school patterns of hanging out at local shops. Last night, I went to the beach expecting to see the usual large group of Omani’s playing with children and families. I was very mistaken as this is the time when the fast was broken and everyone was at home praying and eating. Personally, I have been able to eat largely due to the host family’s house maid who is Christian and will not be fasting. Also the smaller kids in my family will also eat occasionally out of necessity. Tomorrow I prepare for the longest flight schedule I will hopefully ever have to endure. Starting I Muscat, I will fly to Riyadh then to Frankfurt , then Amsterdam, then Chicago, and finally Denver. I have mixed emotions about leaving Oman. I am happy to again spend some time with my family and as well to return to American culture. However, it will be sad leaving my great host family and all of my Omani friends after so long. I must thank the CSLC and my donors for my amazing time here as it has been an experience unrivaled.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Throughout my time in Oman, I found it very interesting how at some points, particularly at the beginning, I was able to gain language skills almost entirely subconsciously. Coming from having a limited background in the language, it was amazing that I was able to comprehend a much higher level shortly after arriving. Cultural differences were hard to grasp entirely in Oman and there are some aspects that have no parallel in the US. After my time there though, I became significantly more culturally understanding and was able to navigate socially far better because of it. Yes, my language gains have been very strong as I am now able to converse and understand to a much greater extent.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Oman is a place is far removed from all cultural norms and even though globalism has begun its conquest there as well, the differences in culture still remain stark. The tolerance practiced in Oman for other people is famed and it makes it one of the most welcoming places in the entire Middle East. I would tell someone who was applying to make sure they choose a location that is tangibly different from the US. Though there are gains in cultural understanding that can come from well traveled locations, picking a location that is a little more off the grid is where the significant gains are to be had. In regards to the language gains, the SLA requires your participation as well to go out and speak with locals. I know the times when the teachers took me out to dinner or when I was in souks were some of the most helpful for improving my language skills.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

The experience I have received from the SLA program has been invaluable. Arabic is a difficult language and to ensure my continued speaking competency will require that I have regular conversations. Luckily, during my time in Oman I met two other students in the SLA program from Notre Dame and we will use each other to practice speaking. The program has been critical in ensuring that as an engineer I have a more diverse academic experience and that has helped not only lingually, but also through my interpersonal skills as I practiced relating to people with significantly different backgrounds from my own. Personally I feel my time in Oman has given me an appreciation of truly significant cultural differences and has helped myself as a person grow to be more aware and culturally competent.