Monday, October 24, 2011

10/24/11: Arab Immersion, Arab Spring, Arab EVERYTHING!

Arab Newspaper Like That Found In Our Libraries and Archives 

Almost immediately following one of the most action packed and adventurous summers of my life, began yet another turning point and milestone for me; the academic year that will eventually lead to a bestowment of a Master's of Art in Middle Eastern Studies and History has just begun. Today was the first day of orientation and I did something I never thought would be humanly possible; I became even more excited about my course work and studies. It really is such a refreshing change to be so passionate and connected to the thing that you are about to be studying. Of course I greatly loved what I studied at Berkeley (for the most part... I wasn't so keen on Computer Science), but the content never moved me or awakened passion within me. I am finding that my second degree will be dramatically different in that sense. 

Perhaps the thing that I am most excited about, in terms of this program, is the overwhelming emphasis put on acquiring sufficient knowledge in the Arabic language. We toured libraries and rooms filled with books and archives completely in Arabic. Sure some of them were translated into English and Hebrew, but too much of the content's meat is lost in that kind of translation. It is really stressed and advised that we get to a point where we are able to use the sources in the language they were written. This will force me to further immerse myself into this culture that I have been in love with for so long, and I am lucky that my love for this language will take all the feeling of "work" out of the equation. This will really be such a pleasure for me and that will, ironically enough, make working hard...easy! It was amazing to see numerous PhD students in the archive rooms doing their research, reading the Arabic journals and newspapers, and seeing great academic minds researching their source materials in languages that they weren't native to. This, more than anything, further inspired me to get to a point where I am able to do the same (in terms of Arabic and maybe even Hebrew). Lucky for me I already know how to fluently read and write in both of the semitic languages, now it is just a matter of hard study to get down substantial comprehension. 

The wealth of information available to us students studying the Middle East is truly astonishing. The prestigious Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies has books, journals, magazines, encyclopedias, and so on, dating back 50, 60, 70 years and more. In the library most of the sources are translated to English, but a majority are in Arabic with some sources in Hebrew. The archive room provides primarily Arabic sources, and has documents dating back to the Ottoman rule in the region. It is unbelievable what we will have access to, and upon being able to understand what the documents say, we will have the whole Middle East at our fingertips! You can find any document on any subject ranging from the Berbers in the Maghreb region (Arab North Africa), to detailed documents on Islam, to Jewish history in the Arab Middle East, to the Palestinian conflict; there is information on anything and everything you could want to study in terms of the region. I was happy to see the substantial amount of information on the Palestinian conflict since that is what I will be focusing my thesis on. 

After touring the libraries and archive rooms we had a little time off for lunch and then I got to meet some amazing people in my program. I am so proud to say that I will be studying with well educated, knowledgable, and passionate individuals from all over the world. I have met people from Ethiopia, England, Germany, Poland, South Africa, and other places all over the world. We are a true melting pot with a profound connection to the region in which we are both studying and living. The feeling that I am surrounded by the world's up and coming great minds in terms of Middle East academics, intellectual society, political society, and so on, is truly magnificent, and I am so lucky to be among these talented individuals. We are the great minds of tomorrow! Perhaps a scary thought :-) 

Tomorrow orientation day holds a lecture on Tel Aviv, some information sessions, and a few other exciting activities. Wednesday is the Arabic placement exam so I'm going to try and get some last minute studying in before. It has been a while since I have had formal study and I want to make sure I am well refreshed. Thursday is the day we depart for Jordan, and in the midst of all of this I have to start packing up my dorm for my big move to the new apartment. I would say I hope my schedule calms down soon, but I'm having too much fun to wish for down time! 

Until Tomorrow <3,
Jordana Simone

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