The Year Abroad is perhaps the most rewarding part of the degree course, where students have a chance to explore for themselves and in their own way the language, society and culture of the Middle East. To encourage this exploration students choose for themselves how and where to spend their Year Abroad, as long as the country they choose is safe at the time, and they are spending the year doing something structured which involves considerable use of Arabic, Hebrew or Persian. All Middle Eastern Studies students, including those combining this with a European language, must spend at least eight months in the Middle East. They have another seven months between the end of their second year and the beginning of their fourth to spend where they wish.
Some students spend the whole year following a structured course in the language they are studying, but many these days do some sort of internship or voluntary work, alongside some private tuition in the language. Some follow a university course such as politics, literature or Islam, taught to the locals in the local language. Students make their arrangements themselves, with the Department providing information, support and advice.
As well as improving their language knowledge and getting a better feel for the culture and society, students gather material for a dissertation on a topic of their own choosing during the year, to be written up in their fourth year. They get guidance on this both before and during the year abroad. There is no requirement for students to take or pass exams or follow specific courses of study during the year abroad. What they achieve over the year is examined in their fourth year in their oral exam, their dissertation, and the way the knowledge and experience they have gained give breadth and depth to their other studies.
Arabic: The countries our students spend the year in vary, according to their inclinations and the political conditions in the Middle East. For example in 2013 – 14 we have students in Jordan, Oman, the West Bank, the Sudan and Morocco. They spend the year doing a wide range of things, from assisting in a school in a north Lebanese town to helping in a Palestinian theatre company or a hospital, to interning with an Egyptian human rights organisation or working with a sailing company in Oman.
Hebrew: Most students spend the year at a major university in Israel at Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa or Beer-Sheva. All of these universities have special programmes for overseas students, where they combine intensive language study with courses of their own choosing in subjects such as Israeli history, society, modern literature, Jewish thought, politics or Biblical studies. Some students do work or voluntary work instead, for some or all of the year.
Persian: Most commonly, students spend three months at a university in Iran, either Tehran or Esfahan. It is often hard to get a visa for more than three months, and students combining with Arabic or Hebrew spend the rest of the year in a country relevant to those languages. Occasionally, it is simply impossible for students to get to Iran, and they then spend time in Tajikistan where possible, or sometimes studying Persian somewhere else.
The costs of the Year Abroad are very variable, depending on what the student chooses to do and where they are. While living costs in the Middle East may be quite low, some tuition fees for foreign students can be quite high, but there are always alternatives.
Students receive maintenance loans, often at a higher level than normal, and sometimes other support from Student Finance, eg with travel costs, depending on their situation. Students still have to pay some fees to their home university during the year abroad, but the government has set a cap on this for future students of 20% of the usual fees. At present some of the fees paid are channelled back to the student via the Faculty, but this will have to be renegotiated, so it is not yet clear how things will work in the future.
The Study Abroad Co-ordinator for Hebrew Studies is Dr Yaron Peleg.