OXFORD - While recent events in the Middle East may discourage travel to the region, a University of Mississippi senior seized the opportunity to study in Irbid, Jordan this summer and fall.

"I wanted to study in Jordan because my father is from there," said Samira Abunemeh of Philadephia. "I have family in the country, so I believe learning the Jordanian dialect is more important for me than to learn another Arabic dialect. Also, even with recent events in the Middle East, Jordan has been relatively peaceful. It is a safe place for people to study."

Abunemeh is enrolled at Yarmouk University in Irbid, earning academic credit toward her UM degree in international studies. The opportunity is made possible through UM's Study Abroad Office and CET Academic Programs.

As a member of UM's Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Abunemeh also received an honors college fellowship to support her summer study in preparation for May graduation, which requires an honors thesis.

"I can easily do research here [at Yarmouk] for my thesis as well," she said.

Abunemeh's academic record, major in international studies and desire to learn a critical language garnered other financial support for her to continue studying at YU through the fall semester. This includes a scholarship from CET Academic Programs and a competitive national Gilman Scholarship that requires a service project upon return.

Blair McElroy, UM Study Abroad adviser, said she was not surprised that Abunemeh was awarded the prestigious Gilman.

"Samira's Gilman application essay was one of the best I've had the pleasure to read," McElroy said. "Her strong academic record coupled with her desire to learn a critical language was also very important in her application. I've enjoyed getting to know her; she is a stellar representation of UM abroad."

Besides academic pursuits, the CET program also includes travel opportunities.

"The program offers two trips during its run, with one lasting three days and the other lasting one day," Abunemeh said. "[In early July] we went on the long trip, which consisted of visiting the Dead Sea, Kerak Castle, Petra and Wadi Rum. I had a lot of fun; I was able to swim in the Dead Sea, see the Treasury in Petra - just like Indiana Jones - and dance with Bedouins. It was one of the best experiences of my life."

Like the other 11 international students enrolled in the CET Arabic program, Abunemeh lives on the YU campus with a Jordanian roommate.

"We have a language pledge to only speak Arabic during our stay, so unless I am talking to family at home, I am speaking Arabic. Most of my day is spent studying or going to class, but I also meet with my language partner. She helps me learn the language as well as shows me around Irbid. Every so often, I visit either my aunt in Irbid or my family in Amman for the weekend."

A graduate of Neshoba Central High School, Abunemeh was attracted to UM for several reasons.

"I wanted to study in state and Ole Miss had the best opportunities for me, including the Croft Institute for International Studies and a great Arabic program, which would allow me to study the Middle East," she said. "The university also was most generous with its scholarships."

Kees Gispen, director of the Croft Institute, said Abunemeh has made great strides in her quest for academic excellence.

"A bit shy as a freshman, Samira has been a pioneer in Croft's recently added Middle Eastern regional concentration," Gispen said. "She has emerged as one of our most talented, dedicated and accomplished students. Although she has only begun to tap her potential, she already ranks near the top of her class and earns high praise and strong words of encouragement from her professors. There is no doubt, she will go far in life."

A Luckyday Scholar, Abunemeh's record of academic achievement and public service over three years speak volumes about her commitment to success. Listed on the Chancellor's Honor Roll, she is a member of Gamma Beta Phi and Golden Key academic honor societies, and Phi Kappa Phi, the university's highest academic honor across all disciplines.

She has been a member of the Ole Miss Quiz Bowl team since her freshman year and is a volunteer at high school quiz tournaments, including Brain Brawl. She has participated in service projects with Gamma Beta Phi and the Luckyday Success Program such as the Big Event and Love Packs.

Following graduation in May, Abunemeh plans to attend graduate school and study political science, in preparation for a career working in the U.S. State Department or teaching Middle Eastern politics in a university setting.

She said she feels that her Ole Miss experience, including studying abroad, will have prepared her well for the future.

"The Croft Institute and the Honors College have given me a lot of academic opportunities. Their classes allowed me to specialize in certain topics that I wanted to study, and the small classes allowed me to have personalized classroom experiences.

"[Studying abroad] definitely makes you learn to rely on yourself and become more independent. You can come out of it feeling like you can achieve anything."