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Mids Have a Whale (Shark) of a Time in Oman

Posted on: January 09, 2014 08:00 EST by the International Programs Office

Six midshipmen describe their experiences studying abroad in Oman.

“I waited six years for this.”

The Hungarian woman plunged into the water before anyone could even utter the “you’re” in “you’re crazy.”

We all stood on seats and walls, clinging to the poles of the violently rocking boat. Our mouths hung open in disbelief, swallowing the wind in much the same way the ocean swallowed our new Hungarian friend.

And then she surfaced, mere feet away from the eight-foot whale shark.  

Having spent 104 days in Oman, we had come to the conclusion there is one thing that can cripple a semester abroad experience: hesitancy.

Admittedly, our group of six midshipmen – Midshipmen 2nd Class Caroline Evans, Marci Demyon, Emily Hornberger, Andrea Howard, Chris Kent, and Josiah Smith – had moments of reluctance in Oman. Initially, we did not always speak out when conversing in a group of locals. We did not always show our outgoing personalities when dumped into unfamiliar scenarios in Omani culture.

As the weeks progressed, though, we grew in our ability to overcome hesitancy. We attended family gatherings, where we won the hearts of our new host “parents” and “cousins,” Omani weddings where we danced like Arabs, massive dinners where we did not recognize any food on our plates, and animal sacrifices where we learned the traditions of Eid.

We traveled up north to the Strait of Hormuz during a weekend in Musandam, watched baby turtles scramble to the sea in Ras al Jinz with the Center for International Learning staff, navigated through ancient tombs during a day trip to Bat with our Omani Culture class, inhaled the crisp air at the top of Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain), and experienced the diversity of Salalah’s landscape between Job’s tomb in the mountains and Wadi Durbat’s clear waters and camel herds.

We learned more Arabic at the Center for International Learning, both the formal fusha and colloquial lehja, than we thought possible in a mere hundred days. The greatest joy in a semester abroad is embracing the unfamiliar, and this typically correlates with suppressing bashfulness and conquering hesitancy.

As we looked out over the waves crashing into the side of our boat, we clung to the nearest poles and reflected on what the Hungarian woman had exclaimed. Six years – six years she had spent going on hundreds of scuba dives throughout the world: Australia, Africa, the Mediterranean, South America, other Gulf countries, and now Oman.

Yet here were we on this same boat with her – obtaining PADI certifications at our first dive site in Muscat and witnessing the presence of the gorgeous whale shark. The Hungarian woman had waited six years for this moment. We pictured ourselves six years in the future, having visited a dozen Arabic-speaking countries but hampered in our Arabic progression by hesitancy.

And that’s when we decided to stop clinging to the sense of security offered by bashfulness. Spending the semester abroad is a blessing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to freely converse and improve in Arabic. So one by one, we released our poles and dove headfirst into the water, joining the Hungarian and not waiting another second to swim with a whale shark.

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