Logical Innovations Corporate Office employee Ivanna Tolley, who is currently a senior at the University of Houston – Clear Lake (UHCL), recently had the unique opportunity to participate in a 10-day Study Abroad trip to Oman.
Oman is an Arab country located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula surrounded by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. This is the second trip UHCL students have taken to this country for their Study Abroad Program.
A Study Abroad trip had always been a dream of Tolley’s; however, due to costs, it never seemed attainable. While in class this October, Tolley’s professor once again brought up the trip, and she felt a strong urge to attempt participating. With help from her family along with working extra hours babysitting and fundraising by selling candy and T-shirts, she raised enough money to go. With the money raised, Tolley was off on her once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“The worst part of the trip were the flights there and back,” recalled Tolley. “It was 16 hours from Houston to Dubai and then another 1.5 hours from Dubai to Muscat, the capital of Oman.”
To prepare for the trip, Tolley did a lot of research before leaving. “I absolutely fell in love,” said Tolley. “There are many misconceptions about the Middle East. Oman is a Middle Eastern country that many people have not heard of. Oman is often regarded as ‘the unicorn’ of the Middle East because it is very unique in its policies and culture. It is the fourth safest country in the entire world.”
The trip itself was to give the students a chance to study Middle Eastern culture firsthand instead of learning through the news and other media, which “might not give a completely accurate representation,” Tolley stated.
“I want to work in diversity and ethics, so it is important for me to understand different people and their unique cultures.”
Experience the culture they did. The students kept a very busy itinerary which packed three to four activities into each day. “The things that stick out to me the most were our visits to Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat and Dhofar University in Dhofar, our visit to the Grand Mosque, our meeting with H.E., the Adviser to the Sultan on Cultural Affairs, and all of our dining experiences.”
Part of experiencing the culture was traveling to different locations to see different communities. “We stayed in a different place every night: a hotel in the capital, a hotel on the beach, a camp in the desert, a hotel in the mountains, and more.”
And as with all trips, there came the trying of the different locations’ foods. “We were extremely well fed with traditional Omani foods, including goat and camel meat. Our meal experiences were all very different, from dining with an Omani family in their home to eating at a fancy restaurant in the desert to having a picnic outside surrounded by wild camels.”
Tolley gained a newfound respect and admiration for Oman and its people. “The people there are so caring and really value honor, integrity, and hospitality. Everyone we met showered us with kindness and went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed. After we dined with a family from a small village in the mountains, the husband/father of the family said to us, ‘this is your house now, too.”
Other activities Tolley experienced included visiting the National Museum, the Royal Grand Opera to see Sami Yusuf, the tomb of Omran (father of Mary), Al Baleed Archeological Site, the Frankincense Land Museum, Taqah Castle and Taqah Town, Sumharam Archeological Site, Babah Sinkhole, Wadi Tiwi, Sur Town, a nature preserve where they watched mother turtles lay and bury their eggs and baby turtles hatch, Al Kamil Private Castle Museum, Safari Desert Camp, visited and shopped Nizwa Fort and Souk, and they even rode camels to watch the sunset and sunrise.
It was a trip Tolley will never forget. “I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to participate in this Study Abroad trip. The entire experience was priceless, and I learned more than I ever thought I would.”