SFS-Q, Meet SFS-W
Lebanese student Mark Saliba (SFS '09) has observed that "in the Middle East, often only a few perspectives on controversial issues are publicly expressed." At Georgetown in DC, "students learn how to question assumptions and structure the presentation of their beliefs in a way that's persuasive." Lubna Kayyali (SFS '09), of Syria, has also been struck by this focus on open public debate and argumentation skills, calling it "empowering."
Mark and Lubna were selected, along with 3 other students from SFS-Q's first junior class, to spend their junior year abroad—in Washington, DC.
The group first came to main campus for a weeklong visit last year after being accepted into the program. All five students are majoring in International Politics, currently the only major offered on the SFS-Q campus. Rohan Shanbhag (SFS '09) has found the biggest difference to be the greater diversity of students. Ahmed Helal (SFS '09) agrees, noting that "we're interacting with more Americans in the context of American institutions," an experience he believes that the group could not have had any other way.
Mark has found this diversity to be particularly rewarding. "I've gotten to meet a wide variety of students with varying religious, political, and social views and discuss with them in person issues on which we disagree. There's a sense of living the news first-hand, encountering people and views from both ends of the spectrum."
Ahmed, originally from Egypt, feels that he has benefited greatly from interactions with his roommates—one of whom is President of the Georgetown-Israel Alliance. "He says things that would be suicidal to say in the Middle East—suicidal to listen to for an Arab Muslim in a lot of places," he remarks. "No one on the Qatar campus would explicitly say they are pro-Israel," adds Mark. "We aren't typically exposed to such a systematic and thorough engagement on issues—any issues, not just those focusing on the Middle East."
Rohan's experience has been unique in that he is the only member of the group not originally from the region—his family hails from Mumbai. "Being a South Asian in an Arab contingent has been interesting," he quips. Mark, originally from Lebanon, is a conservative Catholic, and says that Georgetown's faith culture has not disappointed him. From his interactions with Fr. Ryan Maher at SFS-Q to the Catholic services on campus, Mark has found that "there's a lot of faith on both campuses, and the culture of spirituality here especially transcends any one religion."
Lubna pointed out the impact on the group of the university's refusal to participate in the "Islamofascism" movement that swept across many American universities this past fall. "I was proud of Georgetown for not becoming involved in that kind of racist movement, which disrespects my background and misunderstands the nature of Islam." The other students agreed, citing this as a galvanizing moment in their positive impression of Georgetown.
"We have been able to learn to put our personal beliefs aside and befriend those who oppose us, thanks to our ability to communicate clearly here and work through our problems together," said Mark. "Furthermore, we recognize the immense value of this for careers in diplomacy and in general for our futures."