During the summer of 2018, Islamic Studies Major Matt Loxley had the opportunity to study Arabic in Oman after having been awarded the prestigious Critical Langauge Fellowship.
Matt Loxley’s mom asked him for one thing: to take a picture riding a camel. A fourth year student in economics and Islamic Studies, Loxley had never been out of the country before. Now, he was set to spend his summer in the small, desert town of Ibri, Oman to study Arabic as part of a Critical Language Scholarship. Yet, camels were the last thing on his mind as he squirmed through his first international flight: how would he adjust to a culture outside of his own? Would the language skills he had acquired at Ohio State be enough for him to understand? How on earth do you wear pants and long sleeves in 110-degree heat?
The answers to those questions were, in order: fine, sort of, and by just accepting the sweat. Every school day at the Noor Majan Training Institute started at 8:30 AM and went until 1:00 PM, with courses covering Arabic media, Omani dialect, and, of course, Modern Standard Arabic (or Fusha). Afternoons were filled with homework, meetings with local language partners, and trips to Al-Haram, his favorite of the dozens of coffee shops lining the streets of Ibri.
Although the program was academically rigorous, Loxley says the greatest learning came from his interactions with Omanis: “The culture is very friendly, very open – everyone I met was excited that I was there to learn Arabic and would go out of their way to help give me a great experience.” This ranged from strangers and shop owners inviting him in for coffee when they learned he spoke Arabic to being driven over 30 minutes to a pottery factory in Bahla by a stranger that overheard his desire for an incense burner. For Loxley, this made it easy to make friends and, by extension, absorb the aspects of the culture that don’t always come across in the classroom.
As part of the program, Loxley lived in an apartment above his school with 27 other American students from a variety of institutions, states, and backgrounds (all recipients of the same CLS award). He believes that having this diversity of viewpoints helped him learn more about his own country, as well: “Having students from different ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and LGBTQ+ backgrounds gave us all a chance to learn not just Arabic from each other, but aspects of our own cultures and lives back in America.”
Your favorite thing you did while in Oman is a question that Loxley gets a lot, and the answer is always the same: foster a cat. “It was the scrawniest, ugliest little thing,” Loxley says, “And it crawled up the drain pipe to the terrace of our apartment. We started feeding him, bathing him, and named him WutWut [Arabic for bat].” Having a pet to care for helped he and other students destress, and Loxley says that he would often practice his presentations by talking to the cat “...Because he was a native speaker.” By the end of the summer, WutWut was adopted by the family of the institute’s director and renamed Mr. Mushmish (apricot).
In only two months in Oman, Loxley hiked and caved in wadis, dived in the Arabian Gulf in Sur, swam with sea turtles in Muscat, explored the history of Bahla, bartered at Nizwa, and raised a healthy, Omani cat. What did his mom think of all of this?
“She was annoyed,” he said, “Because I never did end up riding a camel.”