Colleen Sharkey | April 2, 2020
Before Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute within the Keough School of Global Affairs, took off for Oman with eight Notre Dame students for the spring break course “Holy Cross-roads: Religion and Politics from South Bend to South Asia,” he checked in with the University to ensure that travel was still safe and approved. It was weeks before the virus started ravaging parts of the U.S. and the U.S. Department of State’s advisory against international travel. While waiting in line to board their plane, members of the group started getting messages about Harvard and Georgetown converting to online courses for the rest of the spring semester but Notre Dame officials had not yet decided to go virtual.
Feeling assured that they would be safe in Oman — listed as a level-one country, the State Department’s safest designation — the group pressed on in hopes of furthering intercultural and interreligious dialogue along with eight students from Notre Dame University Bangladesh (a separate institution also affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross). The 16 students, along with Mirza, instructor Jason Klocek and Notre Dame University Bangladesh President Rev. Patrick Gaffney, C.S.C., visited culturally significant sites, met with local faith leaders and even learned about Omani cuisine.
“Every activity we did in Oman — from swimming and hiking to touring the Grand Mosque and the College of Shari’a — was well worth the time,” said sophomore Annie Foley from Wilmette, Illinois, who said the trip was one of the best experiences of her life. “Each activity allowed us to build trust and accountability among each other, which are important prerequisites for any constructive discussion. Our dialogue sessions were all the more meaningful because we had already established a baseline of respect among one another in these activities.”
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