Who would have guessed that I would end up in Manama, Bahrain? I surely couldn’t have two weeks ago. Three months ago I wasn’t even sure if I would be headed to the Middle East at all! I came into Bahrain with few expectations and not enough pre-departure planning. I had taken care of things back home – the banks were called, the luggage packed, the U.S. souvenirs chosen – but upon landing, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. The truth is I hadn’t secured housing, I didn’t have anyone on the ground, and WVU didn’t offer any programs in Bahrain. I was entirely on my own!
Actually, before I continue, try Google searching for “Study abroad in Bahrain” and see what comes up… What did you find? Virtually no study abroad programs exist. All I knew is what I wanted to do in Bahrain, and I had to find a way to make that happen.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small island off of the east coast of Saudi Arabia. Being in the heart of the Middle East, Arabic is the official language. Like much of the Gulf, Bahrain is an Islamic kingdom ruled by a Sunni family – the Al Khalifa family.
My plan was to study Modern Standard Arabic, a language I had no former knowledge of, while engaging the local culture in unique ways to make the most of my month here. Generic, right? I also thought so at first. While I was busy preparing myself to experience a new and unfamiliar culture to me, I was researching for opportunities to volunteer, finding an Arabic tutor, and contacting locals with whom I could meet during my stay. And boy, did it pay off…
My father served the U.S. Army in the Gulf during Desert Storm. A secondary mission of my trip to Bahrain is to not only show him how life has changed in the Gulf since he left, but to be able to change the perceptions held by those back home of what life is like in the Middle East, mainly by challenging my own preconceived notions.
Only a couple hours after arrival, Tawfiq Al Zamil contacted me. Tawfiq is an alumni of West Virginia University. We first met back in Morgantown last September, when he inspired me to grab at the chance to head to the Middle East. Unbeknownst to me, a faculty member at my university had contacted him to discuss my plans.
I was blessed to be met so warmly by Tawfiq and his family and friends. They helped me quickly settle in, and by the second day I was in an apartment near the language institute where I’ll be taking private daily Arabic lessons. They also aided me in lining up volunteer activities with some of the local organizations that I researched online. You can expect to hear about working in a local cemetery to visiting nursing homes in the near future. Since my arrival here in Bahrain, Tawfiq and his company have shown me such great generosity. I must say it has already begun to shape a great opinion of the Bahraini people and Arab culture inside of me. Its humbling really. The culture is different, no doubt, but just that.
What started out as a wild journey has quickly become a structured learning environment that I’m ready to dive into! My expectations have already been blown away and I can’t wait to share more about my adventures in Bahrain! You have a lot to look forward to, as I know I do!
Until next time, Ma Salama!