Softball's Cooley Spends Month Studying in Kuwait
June 30, 2014
Rising sophomore Megan Cooley took time out of her summer to study aboard in Kuwait. She describes her four-week experiences, as well as provides insight to another region of the world, below.
"Really?" My mother's face was full of confusion and worry as I told her for the first time that I was interested in studying abroad in the Gulf Region of the Middle East this summer. Despite her initial surprise, she and the rest of my family and friends became my biggest supporters as I set off on my newest adventure. I was privileged enough with the help of the Boston College Athletics to take a four-week summer abroad class entitled "Politics and Oil in the Gulf." The course was based in Kuwait City with side trips to Doha, Qatar and Dubai and was taught by distinguished Boston College political science professor Kathleen Bailey.
I had an amazing time; in fact, it was such a full and diverse class experience that I soon realized that the athletic department's request for a "short recap" would be more difficult than I had at first thought.
Our class liked to describe our experience in phases, which I have loosely classified below. First though, for those who are in the majority and unfamiliar with Kuwait, it is a small country in the Gulf Region that shares borders with the much larger Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf. It is mainly flat and desert-like, is the only country in the world with no naturally occurring bodies of water, and the temperature during the summer often exceeds 120 degrees. Sounds like a great place to vacation, right? In fact, Kuwaiti citizens are some of the best-off in the world - the country's immense oil wealth means that citizens are exempt from taxes and enjoy countless benefits (Notably, expatriate workers who make up two-thirds of the population are excluded from these benefits.). Kuwait is also the only country in the Gulf that has a democratically-elected parliament in addition to a constitutional monarchy. What this meant for those of us studying political science, international studies and economics was throwing ourselves into a political, economic and social system unlike any we had seen before.
Phase I: `Why are they dressed like that?'
As beautiful as this moment was, I got a small taste of what it is like to be a woman in the Muslim world a few days later. Some of my male classmates and I were playing soccer on the public beach near our hotel when two young expatriates began to approach as if they wanted to join. I happened to score and when I looked again the young men had veered off in another direction. With my hair pulled back in a bun and wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts, I could have easily been mistaken for a boy from a distance. Seeing me score, one of my classmates pointed out, was probably not only off-putting but probably intimidating, and they most likely decided that they did not want to play when they realized I was present. This incident and my other observations throughout the trip actually inspired my research project, which will analyze the justice with which women in Kuwait and the other Gulf States are treated. I will turn in a full research paper on this topic by the end of this summer.
Phase II: All in the course of a weekend
The next weekend we travelled to Dubai, the trip that I had been most excited about. Following the trend of the entire trip, it was incredibly busy. We hit the Dubai Mall soon after stepping off the plane, visited the beach, drove on a safari through the Desert of Dubai, sandboarded and visited Burj Khalifa, which is currently the tallest structure in the world (all in the course of a weekend). We also found time to take advantage of the great area near our hotel during the evening. It was during this downtime I was able to get to know all of the truly awesome people that were on this trip with me.
Phase III: Overdrive
When I was asked at the end of the trip what my biggest takeaway from the entire experience was, I couldn't exactly answer, but I think now I can. Of course I gained an appreciation for different cultures and an expanded perception of the world that I plan to bring back to BC. More than that, however, I was struck through countless personal conversations by the fact that people everywhere share so many of the same concerns and in many cases simply lack the education, means, or incentive to address those concerns. From disenchantment with the political system to dealing with sexuality, or even which filter to choose for Instagram, the human element is constant.