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What do Netflix and Oman have in common? The answer is nothing. In fact, Netflix is blocked in Oman, a small Middle Eastern country bordering Saudi Arabia. This was a rude awakening for Sophia Bagnall, a Grand Valley State University student studying abroad in Oman for the winter 2018 semester.
Bagnall is in her third year at GVSU pursuing a degree in international relations with a minor in Middle Eastern studies and Arabic. Bagnall is one of the Barbara H. Padnos Scholarship recipients, and she chose to put her $5,000 toward a year-long study-abroad program in Oman.
“I chose Oman because it is a very safe country,” she said via email.
Bagnall added that she was able to visit Oman beforehand to see what it was like. This trip validated her desire to spend a year studying and exploring the country. She arrived in the fall of 2017, and her trip will continue until the spring of 2018.
So far, Bagnall is thoroughly enjoying her experience. She is studying at the University of Nizwa, and for her first few months at the DHAD Institute, she was the only international student. This enabled her to have several one-on-one lessons and establish personal relationships with some of her instructors.
“I decided to study abroad because immersion is the best way to learn a language,” Bagnall said. “Being surrounded by Arabic 24/7 has definitely helped me develop my language skills.”
Culture shock was definitely something Bagnall struggled with at the beginning of her trip. She admitted that “the hardest adjustment to make has been the university Wi-Fi blocking several websites I used a lot in America, … like Netflix.”
When she moved to Oman, Bagnall also had to become mindful of her attire.
“There are some cultural adjustments to consider in Oman, like wearing clothing below your elbows and knees,” she said. “But I found it was easy to get used to.”
Outside of her studying, Bagnall has had several opportunities to explore the country and revel in the different opportunities it has to offer.
“My best experiences have been seeing the nature of Oman,” Bagnall said. "You can climb mountains and swim in caves. Wadi Shab is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”
Bagnall knew she wanted to study abroad, but she also knew how costly these experiences could be, so she applied for the Padnos Scholarship hoping to gain financial support for her trip.
“I expressed my dedication to learning the language and immersing myself in the culture,” Bagnall said regarding her scholarship application.
This sincere interest in learning the culture, along with the fact that she was the only person who applied to study in Oman, is what Bagnall believes set her apart from other applicants and enabled her to receive the scholarship.
“It helps if you have a history of studying the region that you want to visit,” she said. “It is also valuable to express your desire to expand your worldview and use what you will learn abroad in the future.”
Bagnall offered some advice to any students interested in studying abroad.
“Be open to new cultures and people, and be respectful of the customs of your hosts,” Bagnall said. “Learn about where you want to visit so you know what to expect, and always be sure to have fun.”
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