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Lanai student gets close study of Oman

    Lanai resident Richard Gima and fellow student Sara Al-Adawi pose for the photography club at the Sultan's School in Muscat, Oman, where Gima spent a semester last fall.
    Lanai resident Richard Gima, in white, spent a semester last fall at the Sultan's School in Muscat, Oman. Here, he and his classmates marked the country's national day by wearing Oman's national dress to school.

A Lanai student who spent a semester in Oman on a U.S. government scholarship is encouraging Hawaii high school students to apply for the second round of the YES Abroad program for study in countries with significant Muslim populations.

"After I went to Oman, I kind of fell in love with the Middle East," said Richard Gima, who graduated from Lanai High School in May and is headed to the American University of Cairo in January. "I decided to do my degree in Middle East studies."

YES Abroad, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, is offering 50 full scholarships to American high school students to study for up to one academic year, 2011-12, in countries with significant Muslim populations. The 10 countries are Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Thailand and Turkey.

The program is the newest component of a public diplomacy effort launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks to promote understanding with Muslim nations. For the past eight years, Youth Exchange and Study scholars from Muslim countries have been coming to the United States to live with American families and attend a year of high school.

YES Abroad completes the exchange, with American students heading overseas to live with host families and go to school. Gima was among those chosen in the inaugural year of YES Abroad and he spent the fall semester of his senior year in Oman.

"YES Abroad students are citizen diplomats," said Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. "By studying abroad for an academic year and creating lasting ties with their host communities, they help to change cross-cultural misperceptions and to increase mutual understanding, which are both vital to the foreign policy interests of the United States."

The Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program is open to students who are U.S. citizens age 15 to 18 with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Finalists for YES Abroad are chosen based on their global awareness, interest in diverse cultures, curiosity and open-mindedness. Applications must be submitted online by Jan. 12.

Gima, who was born and raised on Lanai, got his first view of the outside world through the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a nonprofit that offers global education programs in Hawaii high schools and offers free study tours to Asia.

"I definitely have to credit the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, because they offer a summer study tour every year, and I went to China and Taiwan with them," Gima said. "That was the first time I had been out of the country. That’s what triggered me to go to Oman for a semester."

Gima said he was fascinated by his experiences in Oman, a small country at the end of the Arabian Peninsula, where religion "plays a huge part in society." He said he wishes he could have stayed longer because he was learning so much.

"My outlook on the world has dramatically changed," Gima said. "The relationships that I made there really mean a lot. The Omanis are very, very open and very hospitable. They put your needs before their own. They’re the nicest people I’ve ever met."


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