Villanova, Pa. – When the United States Department of State and a delegation from Saudi Arabia visited the Villanova University campus recently, three students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences had the opportunity to play the role of diplomat. Brendan Carchidi ’17 CLAS, Matthew Peled ’17 CLAS and Madeleine Wackerman ’16 CLAS were on-hand to welcome the delegation and to answer questions about their studies at Villanova.
Earlier this spring, Hibba Abugideiri, PhD, associate professor, History, and director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS), received an email inquiry from Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia. CAIS had been identified by the State Department as a desired stop on the Philadelphia leg of a tour for a Saudi Arabian delegation of religious leaders and academics. Very few details were given on what to expect, but CAIS, led by Catherine Warrick, PhD, associate professor, Political Science, put together a program for the visit. Other Villanova faculty members involved in the visit included Ann Lesch, PhD, Meghan Keita, PhD, Moeness Amin, PhD, and Arabic professor, Barbara Romaine.
Upon arrival on campus, the delegation was greeted in Arabic with “Assalamu alaykum,” (“Peace be with you”) by Brendan, an Arab and Islamic Studies, Global Interdisciplinary Studies, French and Francophone Studies and Honors major. Matthew, an AIS major and NROT-C junior, and Madeleine, a senior AIS major and NROT-C senior, were also on hand to greet the distinguished guests.
After a brief presentation, the Villanova undergrads participated in a roundtable discussion with the delegation. “The questions that the delegates asked had to do with how we were being prepared to be critical thinkers and to deal with sensitive issues,” said Madeleine. “Every class I’ve had in AIS has stressed getting out of your comfort zone and dispelling myths about the region. AIS has instilled that in us and this was one of the main concerns of the delegation.”
The students were also able to converse in Arabic with the delegation, which surprised the Saudis. AIS is an interdisciplinary program which requires students to take courses across in disciplines, such as history and political science, as well as in Arabic, a pillar of its curriculum.
“Interdisciplinary studies gave me a really good foundation going into the meeting,” said Brendan. “It made it a productive meeting for both sides. All the concepts we studied came into real time play. It was critical for us to represent Villanova, AIS and the US and to create somewhat lasting relationships with the scholars.”
“It was a culminating and crowning moment for the Center,” said Dr. Abugideiri. “The Center is definitely on the map and has global reach. The delegates were impressed and surprised by our students and wanted to know that we were giving them a well-rounded understanding of the region. To be identified by the State Department as a suited venue for its international delegation speaks volumes about – not to mention validates – the hard work that goes into making the Center a reflection of academic excellence.”
“The visit was definitely unique. I don’t know the next time I’ll have the opportunity to interact with people from Saudi Arabia, let alone learned scholars,” said Matthew, who is this year’s recipient of the St. Augustine Center for Arab and Islamic Studies Scholarship. “It gave me a good perspective. It brings a different dimension to my education. The media could say ‘Islamic scholars,’ and it would just be a term. But now I have twenty faces to put to that term. It’s personalizing.”
All three students have studied abroad in Jordan, with Matthew and Brendan both returning there this summer. At the meeting, there were suggestions of establishing a memorandum of understanding, faculty and student exchanges, as well as a visiting fellowship program for Saudi scholars.
About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.