Five students, four from Northern Illinois University and one from University of North Florida, participated in the Cyprus and the Middle East study abroad program in May and June, sponsored by the NIU Study Abroad and International Studies Offices, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Department of History.
Dr. J.D. Bowers developed and led the program and cooperated with Dr. Zeliha Khashman of Near East University in Cyprus. Two of the five students also participated in the optional trip, preceding the program, to Istanbul.
The course of study focused on an understanding of the ethnic, national, religious, political and historical dimensions of the "Cyprus Problem" and the US in the Middle East. They were enrolled in an academic course that met from 9 am - 12 noon every weekday that focused on the Cyprus conflict for eight days and the history of the US in the Middle East for seven days. Over the course of the 15 class days the students participated in fourteen formal class sessions, two conference sessions, nine formal meetings with international and national government officials, one session with an American Fulbright scholar on conflict resolution and reconciliation (which included citizens from both the Greek and Turkish communities as participants), three visits with the US Embassy staff, ten visits and formal tours of historical sites and two guided research and writing sessions. The students prepared daily journals reflecting on the lessons learned in the classroom and the intersections with the daily visits with political officials and NGO leaders. At the conclusion of the study tour each of the students submitted a 15 page research paper based on one of the topics or concepts focused on in the course.
One high-point of the program was when our students joined with eight students from several different Middle East nations to watch President Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo. Immediately following the speech a discussioni followed allowing students to express their individual perceptions of the ideas and initiatives that the President emphasized. The event was arranged by the US Embassy in Nicosia and held in the American Center at NEU. With students from seven different countries in the room it was a lively discussion.
Of course the students had plenty of time to experience Cyprus, get to know several students from NEU, have fun and to try out their language and social skills in the Istanbul and Northern Cyprus communities. The students took quite a shine to the ubiquitous kebap, the Turkish (and improved upon) version of the gyro. Among their most pleasant surprised were the beauty of the island, the generosity of the people, the extent to which the division is intractable and the exchange rate (which gave us a very favorable 40% discount). The Turkish Cypriots were generous hosts, allowed us to ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo, and became fast friends.
The program participants came away with a better sense of the difficulties that make up the core of day-to-day diplomacy, how two sides of the same historical event can be seen so differently, the perceptions of Americans throughout the Middle East and a healthy need to question US policies and motivations that neglect the peoples of other nations.
We hope that you will join us on our next program to Turkey and North Cyprus; all are welcome!