On Wednesday, November 9, a group of 15 students from the American Studies Center (ASC) of the University of Bahrain visited the U.S. Naval Support Activity (NSA) headquarters in Juffair. The visit came at the invitation of Chaplain Brent Scott, who for the past year has been active in supporting the ASC by supplying speakers from NSA on various aspects of American culture, both popular and high, such as jazz, talk radio, religious freedom, holidays, cars, video games, and the like.
The occasion marked an ongoing relationship with the NSA that goes back more than eight years when ASC students were invited to visit the USS Nimitz which was anchored in the Gulf at the time. The purpose of the current trip was to engage ASC students with a similar group from the NSA to participate in a roundtable discussion on matters of mutual interest.
It has been Chaplain Scott’s vision to offer opportunities to American residents to take advantage of their presence in Bahrain by getting to know Bahrainis of similar age and background. This is particularly important for Americans who have never been to the region and may have little comprehension of or even misconceptions about Arabs and Muslims. Face-to-face encounters, such as the one arranged by Chaplain Scott, and the talks given by Americans to ASC students are an effective way of promoting mutual understanding.
In fact, the topic of the roundtable discussion was “Bridging the Gap”, which offered an opportunity to question and explain common values, beliefs, and practices in both American and Bahraini cultures. The talk was initiated by Dr. Hillis, Director of the American Studies Center, who gave a brief introduction to the purpose and activities of the Center as well as explaining the intention of the current visit.
From there, a lively interaction ensued with participants on both sides raising questions and offering insight on issues as various as how American men and women are viewed in Bahrain, favorite American and Muslim holidays, perspectives on wearing the hijab, questions about Islamic and Arab culture, reasons why students chose American Studies as a minor, and so on.
After an hour of non-stop discussion, the NSA host, Chief Sevorn Bascom, announced that the group would go outside to continue the conversation on a more informal level around a barbecue. Students and NSA personnel took advantage of the opportunity to make personal contacts, engage in more detailed conversations, take pictures, and enjoy the food generously provided by the Chief Petty Officers Association. Chaplain Scott presented a memento of the visit to each of the ASC students.
When the evening ended, all participants agreed that it had been an extremely worthwhile experience. ASC students commented that the NSA personnel were some of the most interesting and down to earth Americans they had ever met. Meanwhile, the hosts said they were surprised at how “normal and friendly” the ASC students were. Some of them indicated they had never been to the mall or the movies in Bahrain, so ASC students volunteered to take them during one of the holidays in December.
Finally, Dr. Hillis said that the ASC would look into the possibility of offering a reciprocal invitation to NSA personnel to visit the Center; in the meantime, the ASC looks forward to hosting individual speakers from the NSA to talk on aspects of American culture.