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News from Fulbright Students

The Fulbright students in Damascus during 2000-2001were:
U.S. Fulbright Grantees:
Kevin Martin: Ph.D. cand., M. E. Hist., Georgetown
Laith Moseley: B.A. Pol. Sci., U.C. Berkeley
Kristin Shamas: MA in Hist. Univ. of Oklahoma

Nancy Curry, Ph.D candidate in UCSB

The following article was written by Kevin Martin & Kristin Shamas
The general environment in Syria has opened up considerably in the last few years. Syria has had the reputation, somewhat unfairly, as a forbidding place for foreigners, particularly those doing academic research. While one is still not advised to seek clearance for social science research on the post-1970 period, other fields and periods should not elicit controversy. In general, one should be prepared for a research environment rather different from that encountered in the Europe and the United States.

As for language study, tutors are plentiful, although price and quality varies greatly. Formal classes are available at the University of Damascus, the French Institute for Arab Studies in Damascus (IFEAD), and the Ma`had, or Institute for Teaching Arabic to Foreigners. The IFEAD also offers an excellent research base and library of secondary sources, but the prospective student should be forewarned that it is, by Syrian standards, quite expensive and that basic proficiency in French is almost necessary to enjoy its benefits fully.

Damascus University now offers a "private" Ma`had in addition to its regular courses in literary Arabic. The quality of teaching varies, but good instructors are available, especially at the more advanced levels. Also, the university setting provides an opportunity to meet and speak with Syrian students, unlike the Ma`had in Mezze and the IFEAD. However, incorporating the same dry approach as University classes, and relentlessly focusing on grammar and texts, the Ma`had at Damascus University neglects listening and speaking skills.

There are rumors that, with the recent decision to allow private and/or foreign universities in Syria, Damascus University will be put under increased pressure to use English in its graduate level courses, if not eventually in all of its classes. The University administration is already declaring its intentions to improve the caliber of English among its faculty in areas like medicine, engineering and law.

Besides the French Cultural Center and the British Council, the Instituto Cervantes now offers classes in Syrian dialect for beginners and advanced students. Classes are small and the instructors are excellent.

As for social life, the number of western-type restaurants and clubs has increased recently. Many bars and dance-clubs have also appeared, particularly in the Old City. The decor, music, and atmosphere is often less than savory, and drink prices can be very steep. The popularity of these clubs, or at least their notoriety, is such that foreign women students are frequently mistaken for "Russians!"

Finally, the most visible change of late is the proliferation of Internet "cafes." Here again, quality and price varies. At last count, the central part of Damascus boasted twenty such businesses, with more appearing daily. Most email addicts agree that Zoni in Souk Saroujeh is the best value.