in the Middle East has been on the rise on many American campuses over the past
several years. Catering to that college trend, a private educational group
known as AMIDEAST is developing new
study-abroad programs in the region for American undergraduates. As we hear in this report written by Mohamed
Elshinnawi, they have responded to a growing awareness that, in the aftermath
of 9/11, many Americans know too little about this important part of the world.
in 1951, AMIDEAST has provided English language training, educational
counseling, and academic testing services to hundreds of thousands of students
and professionals in the Middle East and North Africa. The private,
not-for-profit group has also administered academic exchange programs.
U.S. government wants to see the current number of students who study abroad
annually – 225,000 or so – increased at least 4 times to one million, if not
more," says AMIDEAST president Theodore Kattouf, a former U.S. ambassador
to Syria, who adds, "[the government] would love to see more of these
students going to the Middle East region."
says AMIDEAST, with more than half a century experience and 23 offices
throughout the region, can help make that happen.
says growing numbers of young Americans have been enrolling in graduate-level
studies of the region, to learn about Arab culture and in some cases, to learn
the Arabic language. Kattouf believes that is good for national security.
have always believed that if people are exposed to each other's culture and
societies, for the most part they are going to leave with a lot more
understanding, a lot more tolerance, a lot more (affection) for that culture or
society than they had before that experience," he says.
H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, the former chair and vice-chair of the 9/11
Commission (the official panel that studied the causes and lessons of the 2001
terrorist attacks on the United States), support that view.
recent U.S. newspaper column, the two men described the gulf in understanding
between the peoples of the United States and the Middle East as a serious
threat to U.S. national security. They recalled that the Commission's final
report urged the United States to "rebuild the scholarship, exchange and
library programs that reach out to young people and offer them knowledge and
new AMIDEAST programs, its organizers believe, support those goals. They will
offer language instruction as well as courses in history, politics, culture,
society and religion of the region.
Some programs will have students living in-country with Arab host
families and interacting with their local communities. Program-related
excursions throughout the Middle East will help develop students' cultural and
study-abroad program started in Morocco last year and this summer a program in
Tunisia was added. Jerry Bookin-Weiner,
who is in charge of AMIDEAST's study-abroad programs says next year they will
over study in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.
are publicizing these programs to students here in the U.S. in a number of
ways, first and foremost through contacts with their professors of Arabic and
Middle Eastern studies," Bookin-Weiner says. He adds they are also working with study-abroad offices at
American universities, and they are creating "a very extensive website
with information about our programs."
says that while the number of schools offering Arabic studies in the United
States has doubled since 2002, there is still a shortage of quality
study-abroad programs available to American students. He believes the new AMIDEAST project will help fill this gap.
offering unique opportunities for American students to connect with the Arab
world, AMIDEAST educators are confident they are empowering the next generation
of Americans with a deeper capacity to understand the culture, people, and
politics of the Middle East.