When Joshua Landis earned a European history and French bachelor's degree in 1979, he never foresaw becoming a leading expert on a Middle Eastern country currently in turmoil.
He knew he wasn't going to be a doctor, a lawyer or a banker like his father, so he waved goodbye to his upbringing and decided to pursue an adventure.
His hunger for adventure motivated Landis travel to a civil war zone – Lebanon – to teach history and English literature at a college in Beirut.
30 minutes into his first lesson at the blackboard, a military shell disturbed Landis' class.
Despite the dangers, Landis returned to the Middle East again and again as a student, teacher and expert.
That thirst for adventure became a career, and today Landis is recognized as a leading expert on the current uprising in Syria.
Landis said his interest in Syria began as a student looking for adventure.
"It was an accident," Landis said. "It's because it was where I ended up getting my Fulbright [scholarship], nobody was doing Syria."
During that time, the civil wars and conflicts in the Middle East made it a dangerous place to go to, Landis said.
"Nobody was going to Syria," Landis said. "It was terra incognita – unknown territory."
Landis said he studied in Turkey in 1985 and considered becoming an Ottoman expert but was drawn back to Syria.
"I concentrated on Syria after that, then I married a Syrian wife, and I'm stuck in Syria," Landis said.
and the Media
In 2004, Landis created a Web newsletter on Syrian politics and history called Syria Comment.
Landis updates the newsletter daily, a routine he said took a lot of discipline.
He gets information about Syria from Syrian friends, reporters and other contacts in the country.
"I was really able to keep my finger on the pulse of what was happening in Syria," he said.
Syria Comment gets referenced by widely recognized news sources like New York Times, Washington Post and Times Magazine.
It's read by government officials and analysts in Washington D.C. And European capitals, Landis said.
"It gets quoted and picked up by other news and blogs," Landis said. "So there's a giant echo. It travels."
The web newsletter gets almost 3,000 visitors every day and receives 100 to 150 comments daily, Landis said.
Syria Comment has over 3,000 subscribers and another 3,000 viewers who follow an RSS Feed.
Syria Comment offers a deeper and broader analysis of issues and events in Syria, Landis said.
"The news conveys very important current events but I can do a lot more than that by getting various Syrians to tell their story." Landis said.
Besides writing his daily web newsletter, Landis said he is frequently contacted by various media, government agencies and institutions to provide in-depth knowledge about the country.
In early February, Landis participated in an interview for PBS Newshour and the Charlie Rose Show.
He has also appeared on CNN, Fox News, and comments frequently for NPR and BBC radio. He has spoken with the Brookings Institute, Middle East Institute and Council on Foreign Relations.
"I spend a lot of time whoring around with the media," Landis said.
According to his profile on the College of International Studies website, Landis has appeared in the media over 100 times since March 2011.
Landis communicates with his Syrian doctors, businessmen, former embassy employees and reporters to keep up-to-date about the events in Syria.
"Let Syria speak is what I managed to do because I publish their viewpoints all the time," Landis said.
Because of the dangers of speaking out in Syria, Syrian commentators on Syria Comment go to great lengths to hide their identities, Landis said.
"They write because they are unhappy," Landis said. "Syria is a country where their voices are never heard."
There are a conflicting views floating around about Syria, Landis said.
Recently, what began as civilian uprising has turned increasingly into an armed struggle, according to the New York Times.
Any true resolution to the crisis in Syria can only be created by the Syrian people, he said.
"This is a ground-up uprising, Syrians are going to decide this matter," Landis said.
Landis is currently an associate professor and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. When Landis arrived at OU in 1999 from Princeton University, OU offered no courses on the Middle East.
"I was the first professor at the Middle East studies here," Landis said.
Zach Messitte, the Dean of College of International Studies, is a close friend of Landis'. Messitte follows Landis in the news and co-hosts shows with him on KGOU.
"He is really one of the leading world experts on Syria," said Messitte.
Messitte said Landis presence at OU has drawn more attention to the Middle Eastern Studies Program.
"Joshua is at the center of sparking our students' interest in the Middle East," said Messitte.
Landis said that he chose OU because of the opportunities offered to him and because of OU President David Boren's commitment to expanding Middle Eastern Studies.
"Oklahoma has become one of the premier centers for Middle east Studies thanks to President Boren," Landis said.