Cultural connections: Student Christian Ledford lands fellowship to experience the Middle East
Christian Ledford saw the customs of the oldest independent state of the Arab world. He shared ideas with government representatives. And he enjoyed getting a new perspective on world affairs.
Sponsored by a National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) fellowship, Ledford spent 10 days in Oman with Political Science Professor Ron Stockton.
“Other than their geographic location, I didn’t know much about Oman before I went,” said Ledford, a political science and history double major. “So not only did I get a view of the Arab world from the inside, I also got a view of the Arab world from a country that I didn’t know much about beforehand. It was enlightening.”
Stockton and Ledford traveled to Oman through the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Fellows Program, which encourages educators and students to become ambassadors to counter any imagined “clash of civilizations” or false stereotypes.
Previously, Stockton—who is active with the NCUSAR—traveled to Syria and Saudi Arabia with the organization’s fellowship experiences. And he was pleased that this time one of his students was given the opportunity too.
“It’s really a wonderful organization. And Christian is one of my outstanding students,” Stockton said. “Christian works hard and keeps an open mind. He’s very deserving, and I’m glad he was given this opportunity.”
While abroad, Ledford and Stockton attended seminars and briefings with the sultanate, visited the U.S. Embassy and learned about U.S.-Oman labor relations. They also went sightseeing and visited the ornate Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the tomb of Job and the recently opened National Museum of Oman.
“Coming from a conservative Christian background, I have never been exposed to this culture before. It was only the second time that I’ve ever left the country and I had never been outside of the Western world before,” said Ledford, who first became interested in learning about the Arab world in Stockton’s Politics and Religion course and later joined the university’s Model Arab League delegation. “It was such a great experience to be across the world and to be immersed in another culture. It was actually refreshing to not be in the same arena that you’ve been in your whole life.”
Ledford said his journey was an extremely positive one. He plans to return and would like to do an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Oman. But until then, he’s looking forward to sharing what he’s learned with his peers—he’ll lead the Model Arab League delegation on Oman in 2017—and filtering political and media messages through his first-hand experience.
“I understand that every culture is different and my trip to Oman is not an all-encompassing look at Arab relations with the U.S. But after traveling to Oman, the Arab world is now real to me. Seeing and meeting the people made it tangible, concrete. It’s not a place where people are an ‘other,’” Ledford said. “Now when I hear a politician talk about foreign affairs, and the Arab world in particular, I can judge what is being said with my own personal interactions. It gives me leverage to think on my own behalf.”