Contours of the Middle East Program Offers Experiential Learning Opportunity Over Spring Break
By Laurel Bennett, Staff Writer
Over spring break, the Eisenhower Institute (EI) program “Contours of the Middle East” traveled to Jerusalem and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) as an experiential learning component of the program. The trip was under the guidance of Danny Sebright, who is a guest lecturer for EI and currently serves as the President of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council.
The trip exposed students to many historical sites and museums in both the U.A.E. and Israel.
“We toured a majority of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, visited two significant Israeli museums, and drove through other areas of Israel to better understand how geography affects politics in the region, and then in the UAE we visited museums, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Burj Khalifa, and even had a desert experience where we rode camels,” said participant Stephanie Chaga ’23.
The daily activities on the trip consisted of walking around for students to experience the lives of the people living in Jerusalem. Nate Bowers ’25 appreciated this aspect of the trip because it revealed the differences between life in Jerusalem and the United States.
Bowers noted, “You could feel the rich history in the air, yet people were living their lives everywhere.”
Students were also able to meet with various high-ranking officials in both the U.S. and Israeli governments, as well as the Palestinian National Council. The ability to have discussions with these prominent figures was impactful for the attendees.
Chaga said, “We were able to talk about the Palestine-Israel conflict/occupation, the current protests in Israel regarding Netanyahu and his coalition’s attempts to change the political structure, how the United States is involved as an ally, as well as how the U.A.E. continues to flourish [with the United States’ role in that], and how outside actors, [the threat of nuclear capabilities coming out of Iran], are shaping the region.”
Additionally, learning about the intricacies of religion in the region, namely between Muslims, Christians,and Jews, was important to the participants.
Gwangchae Jeong ’26 believed it was powerful to see the interactions between these religious groups first-hand.
“The forgotten and disregarded moral is that these three religions have the same root, and the confrontations are deadlier when their members disagree with each other slightly under one common belief (yet the matters of disagreement are never insignificant),” said Jeong.
This trip provided an opportunity for students to overcome biases and preconceived notions about the region. The experiential opportunity of visiting the Middle East served as a way for them to gain a better understanding of multiple realities in these countries.
Chaga reflected, “There are political, economic, social, and religious contours, of course, and these come to us from various news sources. What these pedagogic topics fail to explain, however, are the elaborate facets of humanity that we often miss when reading BBC News articles.”
Jeong explained that the preconceived notions students may have had extended to beliefs that the Middle East historically has been strict and conservative. However, the rapid development of technologies, especially in the U.A.E., helped Jeong learn that this is not the case.
“I witnessed no hostility or any degree of reluctance in their attitude towards changes; they were rather actively discussing practical methodologies and devices that can prevent the misuse of the world’s cutting-edge technologies,” said Jeong.
The many lessons students learned from the trip would not have been possible without their EI program on campus and the instruction of Sebright.
Within the EI program, Bowers said participants gained information about “the region, the issues within it, and the history which permeates everything.” He continued, “it allowed us to ask informed questions and better understand the true magnitude of what we say and learn.”
In turn, the trip illustrated many of the topics students initially covered in their EI survey course with Sebright at Gettysburg.
Chaga reiterated that the on-campus program offered a deep, base knowledge of the Middle East, which was strengthened by guest speakers, as well as Sebright’s knowledge of both the private and public sectors.
Participants expressed their appreciation for the EI and Sebright’s organization of the trip, which provided them with a unique and beneficial opportunity.
The original version of this article misstated that the trip and program will be happening next year. The programs for next year have not yet been announced. (- K. Oglesby)