During the recent Eid break, several NYU Abu Dhabi classes travelled abroad in the attempt to gain new insight into their fields of study. Visiting Professor of Social Research and Public Policy Roger Friedland led his class, Social Scientific Study of Religion, on a research trip to Istanbul, Turkey, while Arabic Language Instructor Khulood Kittaneh and Director of Arabic Studies Muhamed Al Khalil decided the break was the perfect opportunity to test their students' fledging Arabic skills by taking a class trip to Amman, Jordan. Kittaneh and Al Khalil were hoping the trip would provide a perfect opportunity for their Arabic students to have a truly immersive experience in the language they had been studying for nearly three full semesters. Similarly, Friedland believed a trip to Istanbul would allow his students to challenge, deepen, and enrich the knowledge they had gained in class through experiencing the people, culture, and atmosphere of Istanbul.
Both trips were brief, lasting only a few days, but allowed the students some respite during the week-long break. However, each group of students — relishing the opportunity to take their learning experience beyond the dry ink of their textbooks — made excellent use of their time, focusing on enriching one-on-one discussions with the locals, and gaining insight and perspective they could never attain in the classroom.
As part of the Arabic trip, students explored Amman's rich history, visiting the Roman Theatre, the Citadel, Jerash, Mount Nebo, and the Dead Sea. Yet, even with such spectacular sights on offer, it was Amman's rich culture and the opportunity to use their Arabic skills that excited the group most. For Leah Reynolds (NYUAD '14), the food in particular was a highlight. "So many of the foods I had were the best I have ever tasted," she said, commending the region's falafel and sahlab.
During the Istanbul trip, students visited a hammam — one of Turkey's renowned bathhouses — and several Islamic cafes. However, here too the emphasis remained focused on conversing with the Turkish people, discussing the politicization of religion and its effect on gender issues in the region with students from the Gülen Foundation and Sabanci University, Islamic scholars, and citizens of Turkey from all walks of life. In the words of Cassandra Flores (NYUAD '14), "It was really interesting to get a personal perspective on the things we were studying in class." For Friedland, the highlight of the trip was "seeing my students engage Turkish intellectuals and ask probing questions. They really did me proud."
With Friedland's class using their experiences to form the basis of their upcoming papers and a Huffington Post article — as well as a student-edited blog, "Calling Istanbul" — and Arabic students gaining a greater conversational command of the language and insight into Amman's history, no doubt these 'mumtaz' Eid adventures will continue to make an impact long after December's impending essays and finals make the break seem all but a distant memory.