Addison Larson, a junior International Political Economy major, was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. State Department for the summer of 2014. In this blog post, she recounts her experience in Ibri, Oman, where she was immersed in Arabic language studies
This April, on my daily DART commute from downtown, I received a huge surprise in my email. I was one of twenty students to receive the Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic in Ibri, Oman. I'm sure I got a lot of confused stares as I laughed uncontrollably in the packed stairwell of the train.
Less than two months later, I was on an airplane to Oman. My exposure to Arabic was minimal, and I had never been anywhere outside of North America or Europe. I had no idea what to expect, and I was afraid! But I shouldn't have been, because my summer in Oman was an amazing experience.
Everything about Oman seemed new and different. Goats wandered the city streets like stray dogs, and I saw a number of families transporting baby camels in their truck beds. At sunset, the sound of the call to prayer rose up from the mosques and echoed off the mountains. Cups of tea at local cafés cost only 13 cents, and dates and coffee were a daily ritual. Most rooms were cloudy with the perfumed smoke of burning frankincense. Every day afforded new traditions and surprises.
Our group of American students planned a number of adventures throughout the country. We camped under the stars in the Wahiba Sands, watching the sun set in the distance over mountains of rich red-orange sand. We hiked to the beach at Ras Al Jinz in pitch darkness to see giant turtles laying their eggs. Later, we tumbled around in the pristine turquoise waves of the Indian Ocean and played soccer on the beach with the local youth. At Wadi Shab, we waded through a series of mountain lakes, climbing higher and higher until we reached a waterfall at the top. I spent my afternoon cliff diving. To top off my Omani experience, a goat proceeded to take my lunch from me while I was drinking my mango juice.
This is not to say that my experience in Oman was all gain and no pain. Our town of Ibri was near the Rub al Khali desert, which separates Oman from Saudi Arabia. The temperature reached 120 degrees each day, and I fainted in the oppressive heat the first day I was in Ibri. Compounding the problem, the local area’s conservative culture required that women wear the hijab and abaya (a full-length, full-sleeve black gown) over their clothing. Over time, I became accustomed to the sensation of being entirely soaked in sweat.
The temporary discomfort was a small sacrifice compared to the gains I made in linguistic knowledge and cultural understanding. Before the program, I had a phone interview in which I forgot how to say “I don’t know.” At the end of the program, I conversed in Arabic with my tester about ISIS and the impact of technology on children’s education. In sum, I am so grateful that my time in Oman put my language learning on the fast track. Oman often felt like a different world, but it’s a world that I would gladly return to.