As student interest in Middle Eastern studies piques, the University of Colorado has added a rare program in Kuwait to its study-abroad destinations.
The Boulder campus is launching its first-ever study-abroad program in the Middle Eastern country, with an expected 10 to 15 students traveling there over the winter break with an economics professor. Few American students study in the small, oil-rich nation, according to charts from the Institute of International Education, which has tracked an overall increase of interest in the greater Middle Eastern region.
CU professor Mohammed Akacem -- who has experience traveling to Kuwait and has written opinion pieces on Middle East political and economic issues -- will be leading the intensive, three-week trip.
Students will study geopolitics, visit major political and business institutions, as well as the University of Kuwait, and meet with officials, bankers, university faculty members and students.
In the 2003-04 school year, seven CU students traveled to countries in the Middle East and North Africa for study-abroad programs, according to Sarah Westmoreland, a study-abroad program manager. This year, the university expects there will be about 32 students studying in the region, with the addition of the Kuwait program.
Ilana Blum, a CU senior who is studying Farsi, chose Egypt as an alternative study-abroad location because of the political turmoil in Iran and Afghanistan.
She said she's been passionate about Middle Eastern studies, and she eventually wants to work in a human rights field or for a non-governmental organization.
The university has existing study-abroad programs in Jordan, Israel, Oman and Egypt, Westmoreland said. CU has a new program at Tel Aviv University -- Israel's largest university -- that starts next year, and Engineers without Borders will take a summer trip to Israel.
Nationally, there has been a surge of interest in the Middle East following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, international education experts say.
Between 2004 and 2007, the number of U.S. students receiving academic credit for study in Arab countries grew 43 percent, according to the Institute of International Education. Still, those countries only attracted 2,200 study-abroad students, about 1 percent of the students studying overseas.
There's a large imbalance between the exchange of students -- with 22,549 Arab students who were in the United States for their education in the 2007-08 school year.
Mary Dando, director of Study Abroad at CU, said the university is seeing a growing number of students majoring in international affairs and who want to work on international cooperation and negotiations.
"Students see that knowledge of the Arabic language and culture will be crucial to national security," Dando said.
CU offers beginning to advanced Arabic language courses.
Between 2002 and 2006, the number of American students in Arabic language programs increased 127 percent to 23,974, according to the most recent survey on the topic from the Modern Language Association.
CU senior Laura Bate studied abroad in Egypt for a year and left the country "conversationally proficient" in Arabic. The chance to study Arabic was among her priorities when she was looking for study-abroad programs.
Bate, an international affairs student, said she wants to work in the diplomacy field.
"With the economy the way it is, I would be excited with any foreign affairs job."