Few regions in the world inspire as much contention and fascination quite like the Middle East. With history from thousands of years and multiple civilizations, the region is as dynamic as it is awe-inspiring for students pursuing study abroad. The countries which make up the Middle East are, and will continue to be, important players on the international stage, as the world becomes increasingly globalized. The experience of study abroad in the Middle East, both academic and professional, will inevitably enhance your understanding of a region notoriously misunderstood, develop your skills in intercultural communication, and set your resume apart in future career opportunities.
The top destinations for study abroad in the Middle East include Jordan, the UAE, Israel, and Oman. Certainly the list of location options extends beyond these four, however, there are many reputable organizations in these three nations that offer top rated study abroad programs in the Middle East and work with universities in-country to coordinate quality academic opportunities.
Jordan. Not only does the country boast wonders such as Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea, but Jordan is always a popular choice for students looking to study the Arabic language and international relations in the Middle East. The majority of international students attend the University of Jordan, Al-Ahliyya University, or Princess Sumaya University for Technology, which offer courses in a variety of topics all in the capital city of Amman.
United Arab Emirates. This tiny country located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula has an established reputation of prosperity and wealth. Such fortune can be seen on the ground by police driving Lamborghinis in Dubai or in the air by the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa. The UAE has become a hotspot for industries such as technology and international business, making it an exceptional location for students looking to study the latter subjects, as well as finance and engineering. Some of the top universities in the UAE include the United Arab Emirates University, American University of Sharjah, and Zayed University.
Israel. Regarded as the nexus of world history and current events, Israel claims the holiest sites for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. With such a reputation, it proves to be a popular destination for students interested in not only Hebrew and Arabic language studies, peace and conflict resolution, and international relations, but also technology, as Israel has become a hotspot for technology industries. Students interested in studying science and technology can choose from a myriad of institutions for study abroad in Israel, such as Technion-Israel Institute for Technology or Tel Aviv University.
Oman. Tucked away in the southeast portion of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman brags miles of spectacular beaches as well as mountains, making it a dream for scuba divers and hikers alike. Known throughout the region for its polite, kind population and clean streets, Oman has seen an unprecedented period of growth over the past forty years, resulting in tourism becoming a major source of wealth for the country. With a history dating back to the Stone Age and a booming economy, Oman is a hot-spot for students who want to study archeology, geology, the Arabic language, conservation, and international affairs. Study abroad programs in Oman are offered at some of the premier universities in the country, including Sultan Qaboos University in the country’s capital of Muscat.
Studying Abroad in the Middle East
Ideal areas of study in the Middle East are Arabic or Hebrew language (depending on the country), gender, culture, and religious studies, international relations, political science, and international business.
Languages.Arabic, the most common language across the Middle East and is also in the world’s top five most widely spoken languages. As a result, the demand for Arabic language courses has seen dramatic increase in universities around the world. Students interested in studying Modern Standard Arabic, as well as colloquial, enjoy
It is not surprising that future leaders in foreign service, archeology, international business, international development or the military choose to study abroad in the Middle East.
It is best to establish your academic and personal goals for study abroad prior to choosing a country as each country and program offer something distinct. You may want to study peace and conflict resolution along with Hebrew language, for example, which would most likely make Israel your top choice. If interested in studying international business in addition to Arabic language, then the United Arab Emirates makes for the ideal country.
Depending on the institution or program, courses are typically taught in English. Most courses will be conducted in a mixed gender classroom, however, there are classes that may be segregated by gender due to religious guidelines. It is also important to note that classrooms in the Middle East, like the countries themselves, have unique characteristics and expectations. Eating in class, putting one’s feet on the desk, or addressing the professor by his or her first name are examples of unacceptable classroom etiquette for students studying in the Middle East.
English is widely spoken across the Middle East, especially in urban areas; therefore, students technically do not have to speak the language. However, English language skills may not be prevalent in rural areas or some public places, like a sooq (marketplace). Students are highly encouraged to make an effort to learn basic survival phrases and carry a language cheat sheet. Making an effort to speak and learn the language is not only a sign of respect for the country, it is also usually met with enthusiasm by locals.
The typical school year in the Middle East runs from early September until June, followed by summer vacation. Students studying abroad in the Middle East can expect public holidays, such as Eid al-Fitr (the celebration concluding the month of Ramadan for Muslims) and Eid al-Adha (at the end of the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca). It is also important to note that during the fasting month known as Ramadan, businesses (including schools) typically experience a shortened work day. Since the Islamic calendar follows a purely lunar calendar the dates of these public holidays change each year.
Scholarship & Costs
Funding study abroad in the Middle East can be as crucial as deciding which country to study in. Scholarships and financial assistance are widely offered from a variety of sources for those who want to study in the Middle East. Many study abroad programs offer needs-based, and even merit-based, scholarships. Check in with your financial aid office, study abroad office, and foreign language departments to learn about the availability of financial assistance, scholarships, and grants to fund study abroad in Middle East (and check out GoAbroad’s directory of scholarships). Eligibility criteria differ depending on the type of scholarship or aid you apply for.
Tuition costs vary depending on the location, program type, and length of your study abroad program in the Middle East. For a typical academic semester of study abroad in the Middle East, tuition can range anywhere from $10,000 to $18,000. In terms of cost of living, certain countries, such as Jordan, Israel, and the UAE, are considered expensive destinations for study abroad in the Middle East, while Oman is on the affordable end.
Accommodation & Visas
While accommodation varies with each study abroad program in the Middle East, students can generally expect to stay with a host family or in an apartment with other students. Student housing usually comes in the form of a furnished, oversized apartment situated in a well-to-do neighborhood. Living with a host family while studying abroad in the Middle East is the ideal way to immerse yourself in the language and experience the culture firsthand. Both options will be carefully chosen by study abroad program providers or universities, so students will be safe and comfortable.
International students are required to obtain a visa to study abroad in the Middle East, and, depending on the length of the program, some students may even need to obtain residency. While obtaining a visa or residency in the Middle East sounds like an overwhelming process, this responsibility usually falls on the study abroad program provider or university, which will be required to submit your passport and educational documents to the Ministry of Health.
Most study abroad programs in the Middle East will submit students’ applications for a visa within the first couple weeks of arrival, as most students will receive a travel visa upon arrival that is typically good for about fourteen days. Visas as well as residency applications for international students studying in the Middle East take around two to three weeks to process. If a study abroad program exceeds one month then arrangements will be made by the university or program provider, on behalf of the student, to apply for residency.
The majority of countries offer residency to international students planning to study abroad in the Middle East for longer than three months without much trouble. Students can expect the residency application process to take around three weeks. Obtaining proper visa and residency permit will make entering and exiting the Middle East more cost-effective and simple (of course legal).
Benefits & Challenges
Social Development. By living and interacting with the local population while studying abroad in the Middle East, you will develop an understanding of the conservative culture unique to the region. This knowledge can be used as a skill in future opportunities, both personal and professional.
- Challenging Conservative Culture. In order to acquire valuable skills, such as intercultural communication, it is vital for students to demonstrate a respect for the local culture. In some instances, this includes modifying behavior in public or clothing choices. Through observation, trial and error, and asking questions, students will begin to learn how to conduct themselves in such a way that will optimize their success while living and studying abroad in the Middle East.