After receiving a special invitation from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Luke Feltz ’12 spent two weeks living and learning in Saudi Arabia.
Joining eight other students and a guide, Feltz immersed himself in a culture few have the opportunity to experience. “We first traveled to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Then we traveled to Dammam on the Persian Gulf, which is the oil industry area, and then to Jeddah on the Red Sea, which is the trade area.” As guests of the Ministry of Higher Education, the group was greeted in each place they traveled to with a traditional Saudi welcome of coffee and dates.
“We visited universities and research centers, and toured Saudi Aramco, the national oil company that is truly a city of its own,” said Feltz. “We met with numerous government officials, including an advisor to the King of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Ambassador,” said Feltz. During their trip, the group also met and ate dinner with Dr. Selwa al-Hazzaa, the head of ophthalmology at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and an advisor to the Shura, the Saudi legislative body. Appointed by the king to help rectify Saudi Arabia’s image, al-Hazzaa is considered one of the most influential personalities in the Middle East for her international success academically and professionally.
Feltz especially enjoyed attending a traditional souq, or bazaar, while in Jeddah. “Spices, robes, dates, and gold were the most abundant items, but almost everything imaginable was sold,” he said. “The crowd was large which made it difficult to move, but when the call to prayer was heard everything shut down for fifteen minutes. As the center of the Islamic world and the country of the Two Holy Mosques (Mecca and Medina), religion is a very serious part of everyday life in Saudi Arabia.”
Because Saudies have built their wealth on natural resources that will eventually run out, Feltz said they are investing in health programs, education, and infrastructure. “They are a very self-aware, optimistic people,” he said. “Universities, research hospitals, and office buildings are being constructed everywhere, and they cannot be built fast enough to meet the demand.”
The opportunity to travel to the largest state in western Asia came about through Feltz’s membership in Gettysburg’s chapter of the Model Arab League (MAL), a nationwide student leadership development program that engages students in learning about the Middle East’s history and politics. Coordinated by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, conferences and competitions are held for students to meet and compete against each other as representatives from Member States of the Arab League. After leading Gettysburg’s first MAL team to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Mid-Atlantic Region Model Arab League Conference in November 2010, anthropology professor and MAL advisor Amy Evrard nominated Feltz for the trip.
“Whenever I travel, I leave all expectations on the plane, and this trip was no different,” said Feltz. “Being in Saudi Arabia was truly an eye-opening experience.”
Feltz is a political science and globalization studies double major. A member and former vice president of the International Affairs Association, he also serves as an Undergraduate Fellow at Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute and completed a study abroad semester in Denmark.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Posted: Mon, 20 Feb 2012
Next on your reading list
Share this story: