Graduates on the MMES Major

Alumni on the MMES Major

For me, the Middle East Center always felt like a little piece of home on campus. All the staff, John, Ibrahim, and Anna were always helpful and kind to me. When I had a question or concern, I never hesitated to reach out as I understood that my worries would most likely alleviate. I believe it is this warm and kind environment that helped me strive to do better. It is, for example, with the Middle East Center that I received a FLAS award to further my study of Persian over the summer. It is with their guidance that I picked and chose some wonderful courses that I believe I will cherish forever. And perhaps, most of all, it with their support that I retain and hope to further my understanding of the Middle East.

"My time at the University of Pennsylvania was highlighted with my experiences in Modern Middle East Studies. The structure allowed me to learn about virtually every aspect of the Middle East in conjunction with my International Relations major. 

Modern Middle East Studies includes classes in Semitic, Persian, and Turkish cultures along with their languages. It worked closely with the foreign languages department to allow me to study Arabic, Farsi, and Kurdish.

The skills I learned in Modern Middle East Studies benefited me greatly in my post graduation career. Most notably my language experience and vast understanding of the Middle East are always wanted skills. 

I would recommend any student to major in Modern Middle East Studies. It is a great community to be  part of and helped me to grow as a student at the University of Pennsylvania."

I'm proud and grateful to say that, after finishing my thesis on transnational sectarian narratives in the Lebanese Civil War, I am now a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with B.A.s in International Relations, Religious Studies, and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. Needless to say, this would not have been possible with the help, guidance, and support of the Middle East Center through the years. 

In October 2020, I will be attending the University of Oxford, reading for the MPhil in Islamic Studies and History at St Antony's College. I'm happy to say that I am fully funded by the Canterbury Institute through their Barry Scholarship. I intend on studying conversion between Christians and Muslims during the time of the Islamic conquests.

Looking back, I can clearly see the many ways that I have been supported through the past four years, and I am extremely thankful. From helping me experience a crucial summer in Amman to figuring out my MMES major, the Middle East Center has been an integral support, and I hope will continue to do the same with current and future students.

"The MMES program at Penn offers a flexible, personalized, and immersive curriculum no matter how diverse your interests are. The comparatively smaller size of the department allows you to get unparalleled support and advice from its program directors, professors and advisors. As I prepare to enter graduate school in Finland, I am grateful for how the MMES program and major have enabled me to quickly immerse myself into a relatively foreign culture, language, and political landscape."

"I joined the Modern Middle East Studies program relatively late. While I was interested in the program, I thought I would not have the time to take it on formally. When I shared my interest in the program with Dr. Ghazvinian, he sat with me for an hour and helped me review my options until we found a way to make it work. I am extremely grateful for that hour and have learned so much because of it. When choosing my classes, I never felt restricted by the requirements and had the space to form my schedule based on what I want to learn.

The interdisciplinary nature of the program and its close ties with the Middle East Center made for many guest speakers and visiting lecturers. The smaller classes meant I could work more closely with my professors, and spend more time conversing with guests. From these encounters, I learned of several projects happening at Penn that I was interested in and got the chance to contribute to outside of class. I joined my professor, Dr. Heather Sharkey, in two wikithons to increase entries about women on Wikipedia. I also helped translate parts of a book for a project led by Dr. Richard Zettler that aims to restore a church destroyed by ISIS in Mosul, Iraq.

The topics offered in the MMES program are as varied as the people of the Middle East; I got the chance to study politics, history, literature, religion, film, and more. I truly enjoyed getting to know the people in the MMES program, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to other students."


As I grew up in small-town Georgia, I recognized coming into Penn that I had a skewed understanding of the Middle East, Middle Eastern culture, and its relationship with the United States. In declaring the major, I learned a foreign language, spent a fully-funded summer in Turkey, and took courses with a variety of renowned professors - opportunities that, as a first-generation low-income student, I had not envisioned for myself. The ability to learn through anthropological, historical, religious, and a number of other modes provided me with a much more refined approach to thinking critically, while also introducing me to a wide breadth of scholars from other departments. The staff and faculty members who comprise this program have also been incredibly supportive, and I am immensely thankful for the experiences I have had through the Modern Middle Eastern Studies major.

Being a Modern Middle East Studies major at Penn has been incredibly enriching, intellectually stimulating, and exciting. The major's interdisciplinary approach has provided me with exposure to the politics, history, languages, literatures, and cultures of the region. The Modern Middle East studies major complemented my Political Science major by truly providing me with deep and nuanced perspectives on the region. I am so thankful that the major encouraged me to critically examine the region and its peoples through a variety of lenses -- and the major's offerings certainly reflect this. Furthermore, I was very fortunate to spend the summer after my sophomore year in Rabat, Morocco studying Arabic at AMIDEAST with a Foreign Languages and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship and to have participated in two Penn-sponsored programs in Israel. I also conducted research on pre-Islamic symbolism as invoked and utilized by the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran and the Ba'ath regime in Iraq in the 20th century. These opportunities would have been impossible without the support of the major and its community.

When applying for colleges, I was very determined to attain proficiency in the Arabic language and gain a better understanding of the Arab region. Thus, after some research, Penn's Modern Middle East Studies major seemed like the perfect fit for me, and I even visited the MEC and met with Dr. Darakcioglu when I was a prospective student in 2012. All in all, I am very satisfied with my experience with the MMES major, as its guidelines and requirements have given me the epitome of an interdisciplinary education, the ideal in which Penn has always taken pride-- from my Arabic classes, to a lecture titled "War, Politics, and Everyday Life in the Modern Middle East" with Dr. Kashani-Sabet, and even to lectures on Islamic finance held by Professor McMillen in the Law School.

I came to Penn with an interest in the Middle East, but did not plan to focus my studies on the region until I began taking some of the fascinating courses in the Modern Middle Eastern Studies curriculum. My Arabic language professors inspired excitement about Middle Eastern culture, while other courses illuminated how Middle Eastern history and politics influence the rest of the world. The MMES major allowed the flexibility to study aspects of the region that I found most interesting while still gaining foundational knowledge of the field. I was able to study abroad in Morocco, take language courses, and learn from the faculties of several Penn departments. The skills and knowledge I gained from the major have also helped me to be a successful candidate for multiple internships, jobs, and graduate programs that value in-depth regional studies.

I believe the Modern Middle East Studies major at the University of Pennsylvania is one of the most relevant and best structured major opportunities around. The flexibility of courses one has the option to take is so interdisciplinary in nature that it is hard to believe at times that you are fulfilling a requirement while taking class after class that you love and are interested in. Beyond simply the structure of the major however one can find a program with numerous distinguished alumni, an incredible support staff and a myriad of events hosted by the Middle East Center itself. All of these factors together are what makes the Modern Middle East Studies major what it is today: an incredibly relevant, supportive and positive learning experience.

Having grown up in a predominately Arab neighborhood and having been a high school student in the middle of the Arab Spring, I had a lot of questions about the Middle East upon entering Penn. The Modern Middle Eastern Studies major appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary nature; I believe that to deeply understand a region, it is necessary to study it through a number of perspectives, be it through history, language, religious studies, anthropology, political science, or so forth. The major’s interdisciplinary framework not only provided me with a richer understanding of the region, but also opened up opportunities that I could have never dreamed of taking before coming to Penn. From intensively studying Arabic in Jordan to volunteering for an English program for Palestinian refugee children to working on the front lines of the Syrian humanitarian crisis in northern Jordan, the major played an instrumental role in expanding my horizons, training me to become a better critical thinker, and shaping me into a competitive candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship and Thouron Award. I am greatly indebted to the Modern Middle Eastern Studies program, its staff, and its professors for assisting me on my journey through Penn, and will carry what I have learned with me into my future graduate studies in humanitarian affairs and my career.

"I think I was always interested in the Middle East having grown up in a post-September 11 United States. However, it wasn't until taking the History of the Middle East Since 1800 course that my general interest grew into a deep passion. I was fascinated by the contemporary politics, various languages, and range of historical narratives across the region. For me, declaring the Modern Middle Eastern Studies major was inevitable as it is the only major that truly allows students to delve into all their interests pertaining to the region. From Persian literature to Lebanese Arabic and the Israeli-Arab conflict, the MMES allows for a broad range of classes that all culminate into a deeper understanding of the region's social and political makeup. The program is big enough that it is easily recognized by students and has a growing community, but it is also small enough that we're able to frequently meet with our advisors to answer any questions. If you're interested in the Middle East are and truly looking to understand its complexities as a whole, then the Modern Middle Eastern Studies major is the best way to go."

Stephen Rutman, Class of 2014, B.A. in Modern Middle Eastern Studies

“The Modern Middle Eastern Studies major provided me an exciting, multifaceted lens through which to view a region that has interested me throughout my college career. The interdisciplinary approach offered me the unique opportunity to think about the contemporary Middle East in a nuanced fashion. Evaluating the history, culture, politics, and languages of the Middle East have enriched my worldview and have cultivated a passion I intend to pursue throughout the rest of my life. The MMES major simultaneously expanded and refined my curiosities about the Middle East. Furthermore, the major opened the door to several programs abroad in the region, which greatly enhanced my understanding of the material I studied in class. I am proud to have studied with such esteemed members of the faculty and such engaged peers, all of whom fostered an exhilarating learning experience. I am profoundly grateful for this remarkable major, which has shaped my time at Penn.”

“I came into the Modern Middle East Studies major during the turbulence of the Arab Spring and have only become more captivated with the region through my experience in the major. I have been able to tailor the program to my interests through discussions with faculty in the major and advisors in the program. My goal to create an interdisciplinary education, with a focus on the history and economics of the region, has dovetailed perfectly with the requirements of MMES. The program’s flexibility has afforded me the opportunity to take a number of courses outside of the College, which have complemented my MMES degree. At the same time, the requirements for MMES ensured that I would have a solid framework and background in the region required for seminar courses and research. Getting to research hawala, an informal money transfer system, for my Honors Thesis has allowed me to delve into the commerce of the Middle East and has been a great capstone to my education at Penn.”   

"As a student in the Modern Middle Eastern Studies major I was not only introduced to a cutting edge, interdisciplinary approach to regional studies but also became part of a familial community of students and scholars enthused by the delicate complexities of the Middle East. The MMES program offers the avid student the opportunity to explore the Middle East by utilizing every type of source imaginable from classic texts to Oscar winning movies. The support of the MMES major encouraged me to explore the region both intellectually and through a strong emphasis on languages and study abroad programs. My experience in the program made it clear to me that the MMES major provided me with the analytical tools and historical viewpoint to analyze the ever changing environment of the Middle East."

"The Modern Middle East Studies major has made my experience at Penn truly worthwhile. The interdisciplinary focus of the major allowed me to take courses on the history, politics, languages, and literatures of the Middle East to help me put together a comprehensive understanding of the region today. The often-interdisciplinary research seminars, taught by professors who are experts in their fields, introduced me to a wide range of topics and allowed me to incorporate my experiences studying abroad in Jordan with the material I was researching. I've been able to top off my experience by working at the Middle East Center as a student researcher, which has been a valuable complement to my academic studies and a door to future opportunities involving one of the most fascinating regions you could ever study!"

My favorite aspect of the MMES Major is the fact that it does not restrict a student to one field of study but, instead, encourages the exploration of a wide array of topics. In MMES, a student may study such diverse areas as contemporary politics in the region, the origins and practice of religion, literature, cinema, and history. Additionally, having studied both Arabic and Persian, I can attest to the strength of the language departments which are an important component of the major.

The Modern Middle East Studies major allows you to take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Middle East and provides you with enough flexibility to pursue your own unique interests in the region. With the support of the MMES major I've been able to study Arabic abroad in Morocco and Egypt, conduct research on urban youth movements in Morocco, Israel, and Palestine, and take a wide range of courses at Penn that have given me a broad perspective on the richness and complexity of the region. The structure of the MMES major and the course offerings available to majors through the program help students to not only understand the region from a textbook perspective, but to be actively engaged in a dialogue with the region through scholarship and to seek out new information through firsthand experiences. The events sponsored by the Middle East Center represent another important component to the MMES major - the ability to interact with Middle East scholars from around the United States and the world.

"Studying the Middle East at Penn has given me the opportunity to immerse myself academically into a discipline that I am extremely passionate about. I was able to take courses on Egyptian Literature, Iraqi Politics, Israeli history and more. This opportunity complemented my work as the founder of the non-profit,, the first online platform where individuals can make interest free loans to vetted Palestinian entrepreneurs in the context of peace. It also inspired me to take 'the show on the road' and study for a semester in Cairo, Egypt--a life changing experience. As the Middle East will only take on a more prominent geopolitical role in the coming years, I highly recommend attaining a literacy in the area either as a MMES major, a minor, or just to take a few courses and see where it takes you!"

"As a student of the Modern Middle East Studies major, I have had the flexibility to study a broad range of courses that reflected my diverse academic and professional interests. Courses in political science, religious studies, and literature helped foster my growing interest in the region and ensured that I obtained a well-rounded education of both culture and politics. One of the most favorable aspects of the major is the specialized seminar courses which often focus on highly specific topics and encourage the study of detailed regional conflicts or cultural studies. Despite pursuing a future career in medicine, the Modern Middle Eastern Studies major has encouraged me to approach and understand varying regional perspectives and religious ideologies, an essential interpersonal ability in the medical field. Finally, the professors and staff of the department are some of the most accommodating and knowledgeable at the university, ensuring that students are adequately challenged yet constantly supported."

"I could never have imagined that what began as a cursory interest that I planned to satisfy by taking a freshman seminar during my first semester at Penn would lead me to an MMES major and to writing a thesis about Mizrahi Jewish immigration and absorption in Israel. The outstanding aspect of an MMES major, is the interdisciplinary approach taken by the department that allowed me to take classes in Arabic language, Middle East film, literature, history and religious studies. The MMES major provided me with the flexibility to pursue my own interests while giving me a solid and broad foundation for understanding the Middle East region. I cannot stress enough how very helpful the faculty, staff and graduate students were in guiding me  to  develop my many academic interests into something substantive, and academically challenging. I feel that the MMES major has opened my mind in many ways and has contributed to both my academic and personal growth."

"As a freshman I had the quintessential experience, I thought I was absolutely certain I wanted to be a Physics major, and as the year passed I slowly began to realize that this was not the field of study for me. As I began to explore I found that the majority of my classes, particularly the ones I enjoyed most, focused on the languages, cultures and politics of the Middle east. Late in my sophomore year I found the MMES major and realized that it encompassed all of the classes that I had been enjoying so much over the past year, and decided that this would be my major. Over the past two years I could not have been happier with my choice. Choosing this major led me to study abroad in Egypt, which was one of my favorite college experiences. This major allowed me to get in touch with and be surrounded my people who all share common interests in the Middle East, and to learn about the vast intricacies of the region's cultures, history and politics."

"The College of Arts & Sciences affords Penn undergraduates numerous opportunities to pursue our academic interests through a wide array of classes. But arguably one of the most beneficial features of the College curriculum is the ability to double major, particularly in interdisciplinary studies such as Modern Middle East Studies. With a distinct desire to focus on the social and political phenomena of the contemporary Middle East, I was thrilled when I discovered that a new major had been created my sophomore year. Though I had already been a declared Political Science major, MMES gave me the opportunity to further explore the historical and geopolitical forces that shape the Middle East as we know it today. Also, the addition of the MMES major complimented my study abroad plans. In the fall of my junior year, I studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I not only developed my Hebrew language skills but also took in-depth classes that the Penn curriculum did not offer. MMES seamlessly integrated these classes into my course of study. Overall, MMES provided the perfect compliment to my other academic pursuits and offered the variety needed to get a full grasp of my own unique regional interests."

"I stumbled upon Modern Middle East Studies at the beginning of junior year during my desperate last-minute search for a major. It was the antithesis to everything I had studied up to that point (I came to Penn as a Management and Technology dual degree) and therefore exactly what I needed. I was already taking Arabic and a couple of Middle East-related classes for general requirements or electives, and I realized that MMES was a perfect choice. It is a flexible, diverse, and fascinating major, with opportunities to learn about all aspects of the Middle East through a variety of liberal arts disciplines from amazing faculty. I ended up studying abroad in Jordan, which was an amazing experience, and working at the Middle East Center. I hope my MMES major will be the first step on the path to a lifelong involvement with Middle East issues."

"The Modern Middle Eastern Studies major offered me the chance to take a diverse course load that reflected my passion for the Middle East. In addition to courses on history and politics, I deepened my understanding of the region with courses on language and culture. I got first-hand experience while studying abroad in Turkey, and now I am well prepared for a career focused on the Middle East. If you love the Middle East, this is the major for you!"

"Why I really liked the major: The integrated structure of the major gave me a broad understanding of the religion, culture, language, politics and history of the Middle East. On the other end, my independent study allowed me to focus on my area of interest and study it in depth. While my research seminars allowed me to study topics I would have never though of before such as Non-Jewish African Immigrants in Israel or the Naqshbandi Tradition in Turkey, the courses also exposed me to the most serious academic research that few of my fellow undergraduates have taken part in. Apart from my class that I really enjoyed, I got to know the staff, professors and even graduate students on a personal level that introduced me to a community of fellow researchers and people interested in the region."