By James Mayer ’11
After Mac: Fulbright Fellowship in Turkey
In my Advanced Seminar on Conflict in the Middle East, students used video calling to discuss the political situation with people living it everyday. As a history and classics double major, I wrote an honors thesis about identity construction, exploring the connections between the past and the present. I’d spent considerable time in the Middle East, and studied in Istanbul. In many ways, Professor Andy Overman’s seminar was the culmination of my Mac experiences.
One component of the course was the academic discussion of recent developments in the Middle East, with an emphasis on historical and geographic connections. The groundbreaking events of the so-called “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere made for fantastic discussions.
For the second component, our class of 11 (plus Andy) met in a specially equipped room in Humanities where we used the video calling technology of Skype to dialogue with students at Tel Hai College in Kiryat Shemona, Israel. We discussed the Middle East conflict with people who experience it every day. We also “Skyped” with Wessam El-Meligi, a former visiting professor at Macalester, who now teaches at Alexandria University in Egypt. Not only did we get to hear about the Egyptian revolution firsthand from Wessam, we also observed the Tel Hai students interacting with Wessam—for many, the first Egyptian they had ever spoken to.
Interacting weekly with Middle Eastern students and professors, who were thinking about the same questions as we were, and being able to actually see our friends from Tel Hai and Alexandria, expanded my understanding of the complexities of the conflict in the Middle East. To consume the endless stream of media about the conflict in the Middle East is not enough; it is necessary to ask questions, to be questioned yourself, to hear different perspectives, and to see people who live in the midst of this conflict their whole lives.