Major opens students to Middle East

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    By Ashley Peterson

    BYU”s motto, “Go Forth and Serve,” is exemplified in the Middle East/Arabic Studies major.

    With training in all aspects of the Middle East, graduates can assist in opening minds and developing relationships with Arab nations.

    “I think there is a need for this type of major; for BYU, the church and the nation,” said Brian Hauglid, associate professor of ancient scripture, who is the religion professor for the Fall Semester abroad in Egypt. “We live in such a troubled world. Giving students the opportunity to learn the language, religion and politics is going to build bridges with the Arab culture.”

    The Middle East/Arabic Studies interdisciplinary major was developed two years ago. Since Sept. 11, 2001 a heightened interest has developed in the Middle East, increasing the number of those interested in MESA.

    “I have an interest in Middle East culture and the people,” said Dan Jennejohn, a sophomore, from Milwaukee, Wis., majoring in international relations. “There is a lot going on politically and economically in that region of the world. Knowing Arabic will provide me with many opportunities.”

    Students can use their Arabic language expertise to work for the government, in outlets such as the Department of State, the CIA, the National Security Agency, military services or the FBI.

    BYU graduates are more marketable to employers because of their extensive background and broad understanding of the Middle East, said Chad Emmett, coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies

    “For students who will be Middle East specialists, knowing the language is not enough,” he said. “If you”re going to deal in the Middle East, you need to understand the history, politics and the culture.”

    MESA requires that the students spend a semester abroad in the Middle East to assist them in becoming functionally fluent in Arabic, as well as introduce them to the Arab culture and lifestyle.

    “Too often people do not understand Arabs and Muslims,” Emmett said. “They don”t understand that not all Muslims are Arab and not all Arabs are Muslim.”

    He explained that Arabic is a language, while Muslim is a religion. There are Arab Christians as well as Turkish Muslims.

    This fall, 60 MESA students will spend the semester in Alexandria, Egypt, where they will have intensive Arabic classes taught by natives. The students will also have daily assignments where they will be encouraged to go out and get to know the people, Hauglid said.

    He said the students will be encouraged to become members at the local health spa, to get to know the merchant who lives down the road as well as learn how to cook local dishes. By doing this, they will develop friendships as well as have the opportunity to be examples.

    By getting to know and developing relationships, both the students and Arabs realize they have many similarities, Hauglid said. Both have jobs, both attend school, and both have families. Realizing the similarities has the possibility of bringing about great things to the current state of the world.

    “If we are going to have peace in the Middle East, we need people who understand and act fairly to the Arabs,” Emmett said.

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