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Summer faculty-led tour takes students ‘beyond the stereotype’ in the Middle East

Wadi Mujib is a river that has been flowing for thousands of years, it is the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. Some students on tour hiked, swam, and rock climbed there.


Summertime is typically the time for work, family or basking in lost time with hometown friends, not many would go on a study abroad trip to the Middle East. Over this previous summer, 28 students and three University of Central Missouri faculty members spent two and a half weeks in Jordan and Israel.

One of the faculty members, assistant professor of Comparative Politics and International Relations, Mike Makara, had spent two and a half years in Jordan, while visiting a numerous amount of countries during his graduate studies.

“I take all of those experiences that changed my life in two and half years and scrunched them in two and a half weeks,” he said. “With the difficult civil war in Syria, it is easy for people to have the perception that the whole region is unsafe.”

Makara said the most important lesson he wanted his students to learn, is to challenge the stereotypes others might have about the region.

“If there is one general thing, it is that the world is far more complex than what we often hear about, many perceptions that we hear about the Middle East from the news, are not true of all places,” he said. “There are elements of truth sometimes, but it is not a part of the world that needs to be feared. We are far more similar than we are different.”

Photo of some of the students and
faculty members on the tour at the Dome of the Rock.

The Beyond the Headlines tour is open to students of any major. The two and a half weeks were divided into eight days in Jordan: five days in Jerusalem and Israel, and three days in the West Bank, Tel Aviv.

Senior philosophy student, Kate Lynch, said that when speaking to refugees, the biggest lesson she learned was to listen up.

“They just want to be listened to, which is the most powerful thing that can happen,” she said. “The media so often ignores the details of what’s happening.”

Lynch said anyone with a genuine and active interest who wants to know more about the Middle East should go on the tour.

“Talk to the people. There are always people you can talk to and learn from,” she said. “Talk to the locals and get a sense of the culture that you are experiencing. Make it a point to reach out and absorb what’s happening.”

Photo of some of the students and faculty members on the tour at the Dome of the Rock.
Group photo of the ‘Beyond the Headlines’ tour at Jerash ruins of Jordan, an ancient Roman city.

George Bechthold, a junior professional pilot major, said that despite the cultural difference between America and the Middle East, the citizens there treated tourists as they would anybody else.

“There are different cultures, but as different as it actually is, we are all pretty much the same,” Bechthold said. He said students wanting to go to the Middle East next summer, should read up as much as possible, especially learning the basics of Arabic.

A.J. Majino, a junior social studies education major, said that learning about the history and going to a different country is going to make him a better teacher in the future because now he has experience with different cultures.

He said that he recommends education majors because if you’re going to connect with people from various places of the world, you need to be worldly.

“Be open-minded in an area like this,” Majino said. “People in Jordan were some of the most kind-hearted, welcoming people I have ever met.”

Tj O’Donnell, a senior criminal justice major, said that the trip helped him reach out to different communities and to more diversity, he said that they never went a single day without being welcomed.

Anyone interested in attending the program next summer or has questions, should contact Makara at Those interested are encouraged to attend one of the informational meetings from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20 or Thursday, Oct. 5, in Wood 207.

“I’d recommend people who are not afraid to get out of their comfort zone and want to make more experiences,” O’Donnell said. “Get out there, don’t just sit around, experience as much as you can.”

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