Reflections by SIT Oman alumnus Demic Tipitino
Experience is life’s greatest teacher; you get the tests first and the lessons later.
Faced with the choice of studying abroad in one of the Middle East’s more popularly known countries, or going to Oman, I relied on my favorite poem, “The Road Less Traveled”, by Robert Frost to guide my choice. I saw in SIT Oman a small program where I would get to experience a country from the perspective of local Omanis. In Oman, I would live among a local family and be able to truly immerse myself in the culture, able to force myself out of comfort zones which had been my mainstay as an undergraduate. I can truly say it changed my life.
In life we often get stuck in an “escalator world” taking shortcuts everywhere we go, but I think if we learn to take the stairs, we benefit in the long run. SIT Oman forced me to grow emotionally, academically, and as a person. The intensive language learning did not stop in the classroom. Rather, in a country where most students struggle with English and have little outside contact, I was forced to speak Arabic in everyday life, including with my host family. I developed a good grasp of spoken Arabic, which I didn’t have going into the program.
Academically, I wrote the major portion of my senior thesis while in the country. My ISP included gathering data and interviewing Omanis, and I experienced some of the differences in how business is conducted in the Middle East compared to in the West. I would often have to operate on a more flexible concept of time and learned that in the Arab World, business was not just business, and required a friendship and trust not required in the West. Often I would go for tea and dates several times before getting the data I needed, a task which could have been completed by email in the US. Most importantly, the experience gave me a perspective on life, and the world, which I cherish in my professional life today.
The most important networking and interviewing tool we have as undergraduates is our experience. When I wrote of my time as one of only 15 Americans studying in Oman on my graduate school applications, I impressed an audience that looks for anything they can to distinguish between thousands of outstanding students. I am now completing a master’s degree at Duke University in economics and have several internship offers on Wall Street this summer. Many students from my semester with SIT are working now in government and policy, some even heading back to the Middle East.
The people I engaged with in Oman, including my host family and the other students on the program, opened my mind to views and perspectives that have helped me live a happier and healthier life. Take the road less traveled. It will be worth it.