Paris, London and Florence-maybe Australia. These are some of the places that seem like the most obvious choices for a college semester abroad. However, according to an Aug. 6, 2010 article in The New York Times, "The number of American students studying in Arabic-speaking countries increased sixfold to 3,399 in 2007 from 562 in 2002."
Christopher Bouciek (C'95) remembers what studying the Middle East was like at Drew in the '90s. "I remember, at one point while I was at Drew, my parents talking to [current Professor of Religious Studies and the Director of the Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict Chris Taylor] about how focusing on the Middle East would translate into gainful employment. I don't think too many people nowadays question that. It seems today that the demand for people with Middle-East experience, education and languages far exceed the number available qualified candidates," he said in an e-mail interview with The Acorn.
Bouciek went on to get a Ph.D from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. He is now working for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.
Although Drew does not have a full-fledged Middle Eastern Studies department, there are Drew International Seminars to Middle Eastern countries, a developing Arabic language program and growing interest in Drew's Middle Eastern Studies courses. According to Taylor, there has been a steady increase number of students in his Middle Eastern Studies classes, such as Introduction to Islam. "There is definitely growing interest," he said.
The national trend dovetailed with a Drew International Seminar to the United Arab Emirates this summer. One stop on the DIS, led by Associate Professor of Political Science Carlos Yordan and Professor of Economics Nora Colton, was the campus of New York University Abu Dhabi, the university's new foreign campus. According to a June 2010 article in The New York Times, N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi "will be a full-fledged sister school of N.Y.U. and issue its own diplomas."
According to Associate Dean of the College John Muccigrosso, the number of students enrolled in Introduction to Islam has increased from eight students in 1995 to 32 students this semester. In the late 1990s, the number of students in the class was in the teens.
By 2005, Muccigrosso said, enrollment was regularly in the 20s. "Certainly [enrollment] has been up in the past five years," he said. He explained that, while this increase wasn't instant, it is still significant. "In this case, we're going along with the trend," he said.
The number of students enrolled in such other related classes as Elementary Modern Standard Arabic has also increased. Muccigrosso pointed out that, before 2007, Drew did not have a full-time Arabic professor-Arabic professors were exclusively adjuncts.
Drew brought in Lecturer of Arabic Gretchen Head as a full-time professor in 2007. Head left at the end of last semester. The increase in enrollment could be influenced by the presence and added stability of having a full-time Arabic professor, Muccigrosso said.
Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Arabic Raymond Stock, who is new to Drew this semester, is currently teaching Elementary Modern Standard Arabic. "I have 18 students in my elementary class… At much larger schools, that would be an average number," he said.
Stock also offered his take on the reasons for the increase of student interest in the Middle East. "It's been very much in the news," he said. He said that, after Sept. 11, there was "a strong desire to understand the culture that produced the terrorists of 9/11."
Stock cited an interest in current events and business as two of the main reasons more students are pursuing Arabic. "They never have enough translators," he said of the importance of Arabic speakers in national security work. "It's good that we're getting to know this part of the world better than we had," Stock said. Taylor also cited an increase in the number of applicants for DIS study-abroad programs to the Middle East. For the January 2010 service-learning DIS in Cairo, for example, Taylor said there were 60 applications for 10 spaces. "A greater number of people wishing to major in Middle East Studies are integrating time abroad," he said.
Associate Director of the Center for Religion, Culture and Conflict and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Jonathan Golden, who has created a DIS program to Israel with Taylor that will take place in May, spoke about the student interest in the program. He explained that the Middle East is a major area of interest for all Americans, but it is impossible to truly understand the Middle East by reading newspapers.
"Students need to go and see for themselves," he said. According to Golden, the new Israel DIS will highlight grassroots organizations that are helping build peace in the area, despite the political situations.
"Student interest can change," Taylor said, emphasizing that care must be taken not to over-expand only to have student interest decline again. "Those of us who do regional studies are aware of the boom-and-bust phenomenon," Taylor said.
At this point, Drew has responded to the growing interest in the Middle East by hiring a full-time Arabic professor, putting the full-time Middle Eastern studies faculty at two members. Taylor also mentioned Drew's Wallerstein Distinguished Visiting Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim as a resource for the Middle Eastern studies department.
"The main priority for the Middle East Studies Program right now is to secure a full-time tenure-track position in Arabic language. We've got a full-time person now, but the position is not tenure-track, and we really need to make that position tenure-track as soon as we can," he said.
Stock had similar opinions. "We would like to expand, and we would like to develop more," he said. He explained that, while Drew's program is small, he thinks that the field will continue to grow. He mentioned the foundational work done in Arabic at Drew by Head before she left, as well as Taylor and Yordan, as positive for the department.
Students are taking advantage of the programs provided at Drew. Cameron Smith ('11), who did the Cairo DIS in January of 2009, enjoyed the work so much he was inspired to return to Cairo this previous summer to volunteer.
He explained that he was primarily interested with the service-learning-based program. "The subject matter interested me," he said. According to Smith, the DIS helped him gain a better understanding of the Middle East. "It showed me how varied the Middle East is culturally," he said. "It's something different."
Christine Felix ('13), a student pursuing a Middle East Studies minor, is planning to go on the Cairo DIS in Jan. of 2011. She explained that her interest in the Middle East came from the encouragement of a close friend. She began taking Arabic and Middle East Studies courses and she quickly became more interested in the area. Although she has been pleased with her classes so far, she hopes to see the Arabic program expand.
Bouciek was a Middle East Studies minor at Drew. "I started Arabic at Drew and traveled to the Middle East on a Jan Term class. I got a very well grounded education on the Middle East at Drew, and that set a solid foundation for what I went on to do afterwards. In many ways, I think it was a very classic education on the Middle East, based on study of the most important texts in the field, as well as exposure to the region," Bouciek said in an e-mail.
Marnie Valdivia (C'10), who graduated in May with a minor in Middle East Studies, is now working at the Desert Development Center at The American University in Cairo. She explained that her education at Drew provided her with the foundation she needed to continue studying the Middle East.
"I came to Drew already enrolled in Arabic and Intro to Islam. I knew I was going to be a Middle East Studies minor, so then I chose a Religious Studies major so that a lot of the classes would overlap, and I would get an understanding of the Middle East from a variety of academic fields," she said.
"Even though they don't have a Middle East Studies department, I still looked up the professors who teach courses in the Middle Eastern Studies minor, Religious Studies and Poli Sci. I was impressed by their experiences and expertise, so I chose Drew."
Valdivia participated in the January 2008 Cairo DIS and the Morocco summer program in June 2009 through Drew. She also spent two months in Amman, Jordan on a State Department Critical Language Scholarship.
Janelle Hoffman ('13), who is also pursuing a minor in Middle East Studies, is going on the Israel DIS this May. "I wanted to go somewhere outside my comfort zone," she said. "9/11 made people realize that there's this other part of the world... We've all been feeling the curiosity."
Although she described the program now as "very limited," Hoffman hopes the Middle East Studies department will expand. "I think a lot more people would take it," she said.