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Middle East Day @ NUS: An eye-opener to perspectives and cultures of the region

23 September 2010

JUST MARRIED: Middle Eastern students showed how the zafaf (wedding) is celebrated in Iraq

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Iranian students shared the art of calligraphy by writing the names of fellow students in the Farsi script

The Middle East is an area that is often misunderstood. Those familiar with the region, however, often speak about the allure of its rich cultures, the myriad business opportunities available and the glories of its scientific achievements over the course of history.

To deepen awareness and understanding about the Middle East among the NUS community, the inaugural Middle East Day @ NUS was held on 15 September 2010. The Central Forum at NUS was transformed into a colourful and vibrant Majlis (living room) filled with sweet incense and captivating activities throughout the day. Students, staff and guests were treated to a programme that featured a catwalk by Middle East students donning contemporary ethnic wear, an Iraqi zafaf (wedding) celebration, a poetry recital of the Maznavi (penned by the renowned Sufi poet, Rumi) and a Persian new year festival. A mini-exhibition showcased the contributions of seven Middle East cities towards the development of science and math throughout the course of history.

Middle East Day @ NUS is one of the university's Internationalisation@Home activities, which aims to broaden the intellectual and global outlook of our students, while exposing them to different cultural environments. "Our Internationalisation@Home strategy creates opportunities for students to participate in activities on home campus that expose them to the diversity and richness of foreign cultures," explained NUS Vice-President (University & Global Relations), Prof Lily Kong.

To enhance students' understanding of the socio-political dynamics of the region, two experts of the Middle East, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Istanbul 29 May University, Prof Tufan Buzpinar, and Director of Middle East Institute, Prof Michael C. Hudson, were invited to deliver talks on the formation of the modern Middle East and the state of the region today. The NUS MENA (Middle East and North Africa) interest group also organised a panel discussion on conducting business in the region, which attracted participation from students as well as working professionals. A youth cultural dialogue and an introduction to Middle East languages (Arabic, Farsi and Turkish) rounded off the day's activities.

"I enjoyed the session on Middle East languages, and I can now say 'hello' in Arabic (as-salaam alaykum), Farsi (salaam) and Turkish (merhaba salem)," said Ms Therese Chan, a final-year Southeast Asian Studies student. "The Iranian students gave me a 1000-rial note during the Persian new year, and I'm definitely going to keep this as it's so rare to see Iranian currency here," said Ms Gao Fang, a final-year Industrial & Systems Engineering student. Like these youths, many of the participants went away from the event with a better understanding of the Middle East and a treasure trove of interesting experiences to share with their friends.

By International Relations Office, NUS