At about the size of Arizona or Italy, Oman is a relatively small Gulf nation, with a population of about 4 million. With its welcoming people, gorgeous scenery, and year-round sunshine, we think it's the perfect place to learn Arabic
In 2010, the United National Development Program (UNDP) announced that, compared to other nations, Oman had made the most progress in education and public health over the previous 40 years. In 2013 and 2015, Oman received a zero rating on the Global Terrorism Index, indicating the immense amount of safety that exists in the country. The most recent UNDP rating of development also ranked Oman #57 out of 187 countries. With the discovery of oil in the mid-1960s, and the transfer of power in 1970 when His Majesty Sultan Qaboos came to power, Oman was transformed from an isolated and undeveloped country with 6 km of paved roads, 3 schools (for boys only), and a life expectancy in the 40s, into a modern, stable nation with highly-developed highway system, a life expectancy similar to the United States, and hundreds if not thousands of schools and universities throughout. In fact, nowadays women outnumber men in higher education.
Virtually all Omanis are Muslim, the majority of them adhering to Ibadhism, a distinct form of Islam. Acceptance and tolerance of others, one of the major tenets of Ibadhism, results in a warm, open culture that is extremely welcoming and hospitable to foreign visitors. Omani families tend to be large and extended families even larger, making gatherings quite lively. A foreign visitor who asks for directions or otherwise strikes up a conversation with an Omani oftentimes will be invited home for Omani coffee and dates and to meet the rest of the family. Given that this routinely occurs, and with the particular etiquette involved in drinking Omani coffee, we include an Omani coffee and dates session in our orientation for new students, which all find both informative and tasty!
Arabic is the official language of Oman, and English is widely spoken in many areas. In fact, throughout the country signs are bilingual, offering many opportunities to practice reading – and checking – Arabic skills. Also spoken are Swahili (due to the shared history of Oman and Zanzibar), Baluchi (an Iranian-related language), Urdu (spoken by Pakistanis and Indians), as well as several distinct tribal languages in the Dhofar region in southern Oman.
Living in Oman, you will notice that most Omanis wear traditional clothes: for men, this means a dishdasha, a long, (typically) white robe with a small tassel at the neck, and a kumma or embroidered cap for informal occasions, and a massar or turban for formal occasions or work at one of the government ministries. Women’s clothing typically covers their skin, including arms and legs; in addition, it is customary for women to wear a hijab or head scarf to cover their hair. In Muscat, many women wear an abaya, a long black robe with matching black hijab, but in the interior of Oman, more colorful clothes prevail.
Student safety and security is our top priority, and it is our desire to help you enhance your day-to-day safety and to know how to respond to emergency situations, in the unlikely event that they may arise.
Oman is justly known as a very safe country in comparison to most nations. Its people have a reputation for being gentle, peaceful, and welcoming. You may follow the news from the Arab world over the past year or two with a mixture of excitement and concern. The movements for political reform throughout the region mark a historic moment for many countries, and Oman was not untouched by these events. Both the Omani people and the Sultan were determined that reforms be achieved without violence. Indeed, the overwhelmingly peaceful approach citizens have taken, coupled with the government’s responsiveness, has allowed for political dialogue free of the sort of clashes that typically have been seen in other Arab countries.
Omanis are known for being warm and gracious toward foreign visitors. Visitors must keep in mind, however, that the culture is traditional and behavioral expectations are strong. Moreover, visitors are in someone else’s culture, so CIL requires that you not attend or participate in any political gatherings or political discussions while you are a student here. We also require students to abide by certain cultural guidelines. For example, we ask that students studying with us wear clean, non-revealing clothing (skin covered but not head), and refrain from consuming alcohol for the duration of the program.
Oman is an exceptionally safe society in terms of personal crime. This doesn’t mean it does not exist, but that it is very unusual and frowned upon culturally. Our students have had few problems in this regard in years of study in Oman, even on occasions when a laptop has carelessly been left behind (a local typically will come running out of the store to politely hand over what you forgot to take). Nevertheless, it is important to exercise good judgment, behave respectfully and demonstrate healthy decision-making. Please read the State Department’s Country Information on Oman (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/oman.html). You will find that people generally treat you graciously and respectfully, even when you might disagree on a particular issue.
The major danger to safety in Oman is vehicular accidents. Oman has the highest traffic fatality rate in the Gulf. This is a young society in terms of driving and many who get behind the wheel lack driver’s training, and often times a license. Driving skills can be quite primitive and many Omanis travel at excessive speeds on highways and roads. It is best to be alert when walking anywhere near traffic, since pedestrians have no established rights.
To further enhance safety and security, all students will have cell phones (provided by CIL) with pre-programmed emergency contact information. We require that you always keep the phone charged and with you, with “minutes” in your account so that you are able to make and receive calls in the event of an emergency. We also ask you to keep us informed of your whereabouts if you travel outside of Muscat.
While CIL cannot guarantee your safety, we can teach you ways that you can help to reduce risk through safe and resposible personal behavior. During orientation, you will be briefed in more detail on how to stay safe – by behaving in a responsible and respectful manner, using good judgement, and choosing to avoid engaging in illegal or dangerous activities, you will certainly reduce any risk.
Hear from a CIL alum says about safety and security in Oman.