The program was a great way of getting to know Oman better. I think because it is so comparably peaceful, its not as well known as the rest of the Middle East, but its a terribly interesting country with a lot of history.
Its the only Ibadhi Muslim country in the world, which makes it pretty unique, but even more so when you realize that a lot of people don’t really know anything beyond the Shi’i-Sunni divide. Its not exactly a well kept secret that the Sultan is probably gay, but he seems to be almost universally loved which is amazing in such an otherwise conservative Gulf State. While the Ottoman Empire was the face of the Muslim and Arab world for centuries, Oman has a lesser known legacy as an independent Muslim Empire. More importantly, its one that successfully established it own colonies and successfully competed with another maritime great, Portugal, in the Indian Ocean. Its holdings in Baluchistan and East Africa bring some ethnic variety to Modern Omani culture, but it is also host to some extremely old South Arabian languages like Jabbali (Mehri) that are extinct nearly all of the rest of the Arabian peninsula.
So, as a cultural outreach program, I think it has a lot of value in educating people about Omani culture. Given the Sultan’s drive to diversify the economy beyond just petroleum production, getting the word out there that Oman exists is great for both tourism and investment. Its stability and relative social openness for the Gulf should be able to bring more money from the West, and drive for education should help Omanis benefit from that and build up other sectors of the economy in the future. I haven’t been there yet, but I’ve heard that the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center in Washington DC serves a similar purpose.
I’m pretty grateful for the opportunity to go study there, especially considering everything was paid for and taken care of. I think my Arabic really benefited from the time spent there, although I still think the best way for me to cement that is a more long term commitment in the Middle East, like the Peace Corps. Having said that, dialect is something that they focused on, especially with language partners, and I think that’s something that American institutions should do a lot more of. Fusha is only useful to the extent that the local dialect is similar to it, which can be relatively close or almost mutually unintelligible like with the Darija in North Africa.
I got to experience a wide variety of Omani culture and settings, and though I would hardly call myself an expert, I’m certainly more informed now, so I think the program serves its purpose.