A Gateway Worth Walking Through

Submitted by Rick Aguilar on

Why take NEAR E 101, Gateway to the Near East? 

This 5-credit introductory course has been offered during the Fall Quarter of each academic year since Fall 2015, and is a requirement for all NELC majors. However, the question still stands, what exactly is Gateway to the Near East and why should students take it?

The primary goal of NEAR E 101 is to introduce students to the general breadth of Middle Eastern studies, and to teach the Middle East beyond the common portrayals in contemporary media. The course is co-taught by a number of NELC professors and invited lectures, and is divided into five sections. The first, on the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, is taught by Professor Stephanie Selover. The second section, Hebrew and Israeli Studies, is taught by Professor Naomi Sokoloff. After this the course leads into Arabic and Islamic Studies taught by Professor Hamza Zafer and continues with Persian and Iranian Studies taught by Professor Aria Fani, and lastly Central Eurasian and Turkish Studies, which is co-taught by Professors Talant Mawkanuli and Selim Kuru. These faculty members, as specialists in their fields, enthusiastically and passionately seize the opportunity to pass their knowledge along to undergraduate students. As someone who has taken this course, I can testify that this is a one of a kind experience.

While it is open to all UW students, NEAR E 101 is the only course that all NELC students, regardless of specific area, are required to take. When asked why, Professor Selover stated that since the NELC Department covers such a vast area of knowledge, “Gateway to the Near East” allows students to develop a better idea of how their specific area of study fits into the bigger picture around it. The course also introduces students to the wide variety of courses they can take within NELC, allowing students  to have a broader understanding of the field of Near Eastern studies.

When asked what was her favorite thing about NEAR E 101, Professor Selover replied, “I think my favorite thing about it is how different student experiences are coming into the course.” She continues on to say how she likes that the yearly FIG (First-year Interest Group) section, mixed in with all of the majors and non-majors including students from freshmen to seniors, brings so many different kinds of people and perspectives together. She further states that having such diverse experiences and perspectives opens up the mind to so many new ideas and occasionally forces even the instructors to look at the very things which they have studied for their entire careers in a whole new light.

In summary, the diversity of students, human experiences, perspectives, and different areas of knowledge that are all brought together in this one course is what truly makes “Gateway to the Near East” the kind of mind-opening experience so many students look forward to and hope to find while attending college. It is a course which can spark interests and passions which you may not even know you had. Thus, whether you wish to dedicate yourself to this field of study, or if you have no prior knowledge of the Middle East and are simply looking for a great class with light-weight requirements and a focus on student engagement, this course is undoubtedly one worth signing up for and one you are extremely unlikely to regret taking. NEAR E 101 is far more than what meets the eye and is not only a gateway to the Near East, but to so much more.

Written by Mitchell C. Olsen, NELC Undergrad