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Research brings students to Middle East

Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 11:01


Courtesy Rebecca Varley

More than 40 Tufts students traveled to Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Palestine during winter break for research related to the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL). 

The IGL sends 75 to 110 students abroad to conduct research throughout the course of the year, according to Heather Barry, the associate director of IGL. This year, however, IGL saw many more students participate in winter break trips.

“The goal was for students to go out as a group to gain a better understanding of the place that they’re going to and of their individual research projects — some on Syrian refugees, some on the internal versus the international perspective of Jordan, some on health and access to water there,” Barry said.

Many of the students traveled from Dec. 30 to Jan. 12 to Amman, the capital of Jordan, according to freshman Umar Shareef, one of the trip members. While the trip to Jordan was funded largely through IGL, students also received supplemental grants from organizations including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, according to Barry.

“Students received anywhere from $1,000 to $1,700 from the Institute, depending on need,
where they were going [and] where they were staying,” Barry said.

Many students also received $200 from the Tufts undergraduate research fund, she added.

Eight of the students on the Jordan trip were a part of the Tufts New Initiative for Middle East Peace (NIMEP), a collaborative education, dialogue and research group with a focus on the Middle East, according to sophomore participant Adrienne Larson.

Three of the students were part of the Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC), a yearlong, multidisciplinary course with a global political theme, according to Larson. This year’s class focuses on “the Future of the Middle East and North Africa,” according to the IGL website.

As one of the EPIIC students, Shareef had the opportunity to visit the Zaatari refugee camp for Syrian refugees fleeing from the ongoing Syrian Civil War. His research explored how spirituality is affected when someone is evicted from his or her homeland, according to Shareef.

“It was eye-opening for me, in the sense that I got to see one of the sides of war that is not normally seen,
the gross trauma and inequities [and] the human tragedy of war,” Shareef said. “[It has] nothing to do with politics. Not only do you see this side of war, but you begin to realize that there is no separation between you and them, and that it is by chance that you are not in their position.

It’s humbling.”

Shareef will present his research at the EPIIC symposium later this year. He said he hopes to publish his findings, and return to Jordan to continue his work.

The remaining two students on the Jordan trip were from the Power and Poverty Research Initiative (PPRI), a student-run group that explores the power structures in various systems and how they affect different forms of poverty, according to Larson.

Larson, one of the two students from PPRI, focused her research on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) program in Jordan.

“For our research, we looked into the legitimacy of the [United Nations Commissioner for Refugees] cash assistance program and the vulnerability criteria used in assessing which refugees were eligible for the cash or not,” Larson said. 

Larson explained that she and her partner had decided on going to Jordan because of the focus of this year’s EPIIC symposium, where she will present her research.

“For me, it was out of my comfort zone in that I’m not an expert on the Middle East, and it was my first time in an Arab country,” she said. “It was really enlightening and I loved it. It’s certainly a conservative country, and I have lived in an Islamic country before in West Africa, so it was interesting for me to compare the two worlds.”

Barry emphasized the breakthrough quality of the Tufts IGL program in allowing undergraduates to go abroad to pursue their own research and interests.

“It’s unique in terms of everything else that we’ve seen and heard,” she said. “These can be transformative experiences for students in terms of what’s out there and what they can do.”

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