The American Middle East Institute, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based organization focused on building business, educational, and cultural ties between the United States and the Middle East, has since its 2008 inception launched a series of highly ambitious cultural exchange programs.
Most recently, the institute successfully launched its first exchange program in Muscat, a dialogue initiative that brought Pittsburgh-area students together with students from across Oman. The nearly six-week long program, spearheaded by AMEI education director, Georges Montillet, sought to provide students with the opportunity to learn Arabic, experience Omani culture while partaking in service programs throughout the country.
Commenting on his organization’s ambitious objective, Montillet stated, "Our goal of building bridges does not mean glossing over complex and deep cultural issues but rather working through them and engaging in dialogue with friends who might dress and think differently but dream and feel passionately about the same universal ideals."
Montillet, a Yale-educated linguist and polyglot subsequently revealed that as part of an effort to strengthen Arabic-language education, he designed a new curriculum for his students; one that would teach beginners more commonly used vocabulary and terminology. Written in the Egyptian dialect, Montillet’s curriculum begins with greetings and advances towards a series of scenarios that teaches the participant, among other things, how to bargain at the local market [souq], order at a restaurant and how to check into a hotel. Describing how the various scenarios are first acted out by a native Arabic speaker, followed by the students, Montillet explained how theatrics is a centerpiece of his program curriculum.
While most of the U.S. students participating in last summer’s cultural exchange program came from local Pittsburgh universities and colleges, their Omani counterparts were selected by the Omani Ministry for Higher Education and hailed from throughout the country.
"Our students frequently discussed hot-button topics such as global politics, women's rights, and religion with mutual respect and utter frankness. Having formed such deep friendships across cultures they could agree to disagree and still find more points of contact than expected," Montillet said.
Omani students on the other hand, enjoying a high-level of English fluency, engaged in research projects followed by a presentation on a topic of American culture. Aside from an intensive language program and visiting historical sites throughout the country, an apparent cultural highlight was a desert Bedouin-inspired camping trip to Oman’s Sharqiyya region.
Commenting on the program’s dialogue objective, Muzna Al-Yahmadi, an Omani program participant, said, “I think the greatest achievement of this program was that each one of us learned the importance of cultural diversity: even though we are from different countries and cultures, we can still be friends through respect and understanding.”
Aside from the cultural component, the young Omani women said that the academic “focused on preparing us for higher studies in Oman and abroad through instructional classes on research and presentation skills in English...The research assessment gave me the opportunity to learn more about research methods and to improve my academic writing.“
While in Pittsburgh, students had an opportunity to engage in a series of service programs centering on introducing Omani culture to low-income elementary school children. The overall objective of the “I want to become an ambassador” program was to ignite an interest in the Middle East, Montillet explained. In Pittsburgh, students also carried out volunteer work for Iraqi refugees.
Many of the students participating received substantial AMEI scholarships as more than US$200,000 were allocated for last year’s program. While in Oman, the government generously covered all expenses.
Welcoming the AMEI’s Oman initiative, Dr. Fatima al-Busaidi, a professor of Arabic as a second language at Sultan Qaboos University said, "The best part about the program was that it was a three-in-one program which recognizes three important elements in language learning: academics, culture and fun. The American and the Omani students did many activities together with their teachers. Therefore, my role was not limited to the classroom – just going over grammar – rather it was to share their lives at home and outdoors. This has made our relationship deeper and has given the American students the opportunity to feel they are one of us and free to come back to Oman with friends to welcome them."
Inspired AMEI Alumni Chose To Focus On Mideast Careers
Aside from its Omani programming, the AMEI also sent students to Cairo, Egypt in the summers of 2010 and 2011. While in Egypt, students also engaged in volunteer work where they assisted Sudanese refugees and helped orphans.
As a testimony to the Arabic-program’s effectiveness, students kept in touch over Facebook in Arabic while many of the alumni have either chosen to major in Middle East studies or choose a career path focusing on the region. Several alumni have also moved onto become Fulbright Scholars while others are choosing a diplomatic career with an emphasis on Arabic and the Middle East.
Engaging Iran, Aiming To Send Pittsburgh Philharmonic To Oman
In early 2009, prior to the Iranian uprising, the AMEI sought to engage Tehran by preparing what would have been a landmark visit by the Pittsburgh Philharmonic to the Islamic Republic. Although talks between the AMEI and Iran ultimately collapsed following the country’s disputed 2010 presidential election, the organization is currently holding talks with Omani cultural institutions on sending the Pittsburgh Philharmonic to Muscat. Oman, a close U.S. ally, precariously located next to Yemen and Saudi Arabia along the Arabian Sea, also hosts one of the region’s most remarkable cultural institutions, the Royal Opera House.
Established by a royal decree, by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Opera House held its first performance in September last year, featuring the legendary Spanish tenor, Placido Domingo in Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot.
AMEI, Looking Towards The Future
The AMEI intends to ambitiously launch four different Oman exchange programs for 2013, all of them focusing on various degrees of Arabic language classes and on cultural exchange.
One of the new programs, targeting business students from the undergraduate level through MBA students, will provide participants the opportunity to focus on entrepreneurship and petrochemicals, among other things. Another component of that program will be to provide students with internship experience in the United States and in Oman.
Additionally, the AMEI is currently developing a separate program for the U.S. business community at large, instructing participants on how to do business in the Middle East. In January next year, the Pittsburgh-based organization is planning on sending its participants to Oman where they will visit a free-trade zone while networking with local businessmen.
Programming Geared Towards Omani Women, U.S. High School Students
As part of an effort to bolster its overall programming efforts, the AMEI intends to launch a new program targeting high-school students. The program in question will place a special emphasis on service and will also focus on assisting displaced refugees with a special focus on Middle East culture and values.
A third program will provide high-level Arabic-language instruction for students holding a certain level of proficiency.
And finally, the AMEI is also currently developing a program that that will bring Omani women to the United States where they will research international women's issues, do internships and volunteer work.
Growing Partnerships, Expanding Business Ties
Meanwhile, the AMEI established a partnership with Washington & Jefferson College, an academic institution established in 1781. While the College provides housing for AMEI’s international visitors, the institution also committed itself to providing prospective Mideast students expedited admission as it seeks to attract more international students. Additionally, AMEI has also established partnerships with the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne University, a local college offering businesses export advice.
AMEI’s founder and President, Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis, outlined that one of her goals is to connect Americans to the peoples of the of the Middle East. Stressing the importance of track II diplomacy, Curtis argued that by connecting businesses and educational groups, existing “misunderstandings,” on both sides, could be bridged.
Since founding the institute nearly four and half years ago, Curtis revealed that her “most rewarding” experience was an invitation by Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al Busaidi, a senior Omani diplomat, to visit his country along with a delegation of senior business executives in April 2010. While the U.S. business delegation received a “wonderful welcome” in Muscat, Curtis acknowledged that putting together a senior level delegation, on short notice, had been a “challenge.” Through the assistance of Sayyid Badr, Curtis described how she ultimately was able to bring executives from Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain to Pittsburgh to attend an AMEI business conference in Pittsburgh last year.
This year, the AMEI is hosting the Health Innovation Summit, scheduled to take place on October 30th. Aside from convening health care executives, government officials and dignitaries from across the Middle East, the conference’s Honorary Chair will be former U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Paul O’Neill. Additional keynote speakers will be Prince Turki Al Faisel, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States and the former Chairman of the Libyan Transitional Council, Dr. Mahmoud Jibril. At the conference, U.S. and Middle Eastern participants will also have an opportunity to discuss issues ranging from sharing successes in health care management to participating in sessions on health insurance practices. Participants will also discuss how to establish multinational centers of excellence and how the latest medical technologies can benefit the peoples of the Middle East.
Summing up an ambitious vision, Curtis seeks to establish the AMEI as internationally renown institution known for its innovative conferences while attracting high-level decision makers from industry, government, and academia to Pittsburgh.
Source: Diplomatic Courier
Insurance Department Approves Highmark’s Transaction with West Penn Allegheny Health System
Insurance Department Approves Highmark’s Transaction with...
ACAP Summer Program at Point Park University-Increasing Awareness of Accounting Careers Among Minority High School Students
ACAP Summer Program at Point Park University-Increasing Awareness of...
PepsiCo cuts Lil Wayne over Emmett Till lyric Black youth was killed in 1955
PepsiCo cuts Lil Wayne over Emmett Till lyric Black youth was...
Turnovers kill bid for 7th title -PACKERS 31, STEELERS 25
Turnovers kill bid for 7th title - PACKERS 31, STEELERS 25...