Just across from Rogers Hall on the eastern side of campus stands a small and austere one-story building, impressive in its simplicity. If the building wasn't on campus grounds, it could easily be mistaken for someone's private home.
The unremarkable building, however, houses a remarkable program known as the FSU Middle East Center. On Nov. 17, the organization hosted an open house as part of International Education Week and draw attention to its continued growth on campus.
Dozens of students and faculty turned out to catch up and get to know each other over Middle Eastern treats like baklava and maamoul, as well as tea. Passersby, curious at the commotion, walked inside to find a packed room with no shortage of conversations and smiling faces eager to show them around.
A point of pride for the center is its budding library, replete with hundreds of books and novels that were donated by the wife of a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Zeina Schlenoff, the new director of the Middle East Center, says the Open House accomplished what it was supposed to do and get the organization's name out to newer students on campus.
"It's been wonderful to have an open house during International Education Week. Many of the people who came today aren't even in our classes," Schlenoff says. "This has always been part of our mission, which is to share the region's culture and education with the rest of the students."
For students like senior John Searcy, a criminology major who has taken Arabic classes on campus for three years, the Open House provided a new opportunity for the group to connect with people of differing backgrounds, yet share similar interests in learning more about the region.
"I was excited to hear about the Open House since, to be honest with you, the Middle Eastern Center doesn't get a lot of recognition as people don't know where it is," Searcy says.
Searcy studied abroad in Amman, Jordan over the summer through California State University. Since then, he has used his time on campus to get involved in the Syrian Outreach Program to teach English to refugees in Tallahassee as well as further his own fascination with the region.
Established in 2006, the Middle East Center is devoted to opening a gateway to the one of the world's most studied and often misunderstood regions. It also administers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Middle Eastern Studies, the first of its kind in Florida.
The center is also home to the Arabic Outreach Program, a program launched last year to teach Middle Eastern history and culture in local elementary schools. This year, eight FSU students taught Egyptian history at Springwood Elementary. For spring 2017, the program was invited back to teach about the wider region at large, according to Dr. Schlenoff.
The Arabic Outreach Program has a presence at the Magnolia School as well, where they are involved in teaching Arabic.
Over the next few months, the MEC has a series of special events planned. In January, they are organizing a free calligraphy workshop and a four-day film festival showcasing Middle Eastern films at the Student Life Cinema in February.
For Dr. Schlenoff, the events fit perfectly into the center's broader mission of bringing the best of the Middle East to FSU.
"We are an active center and we are here to inform the students," Dr. Schlenoff says. "Our mission has always been to spread tolerance, awareness and education. And everyone is always welcome."