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First-Year Focus

Welcome to Northwestern! We are glad that you have an interest in the Middle East and North African Studies Program (MENA). We are an exciting new program at the university, with many new star faculty who are among the best scholars of the region. They are eager to lead you on a path of inquiry into some of the most critical issues of our times!

Why learn about the Middle East and North Africa?

The Middle East and North African Studies (MENA) program is central to a liberal arts education that focuses on the diversity of the human experience and our place within it. Learning about the MENA region is critical to this liberal arts mission given the region&'s centrality to national and global history and politics. The MENA program trains students in the latest critical approaches to social, cultural, political, and economic forces in the region, and imparts an understanding of their histories and global interconnections. The MENA major and minor prepare students for careers in a variety of fields including law, government, human rights, international development, and cultural organizations.

What can I study at Northwestern?

MENA offers an interdisciplinary major which combines substantial training in a relevant language – Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew – and a stimulating, well-rounded mix of History, Humanities, and Social Science courses related to the Middle East and North Africa. History classes are offered by the departments of History and Classics; Humanities classes are offered by the departments of Art History, English, Religious Studies, the Program of Comparative Literature, and Radio/TV/Film (in the School of Communications); Social Science classes are offered by the departments of Anthropology and Political Science. Course topics taught by faculty in a variety of disciplines include MENA in international politics, mass media, migration, digital cultures, arts and literature, law, and religious movements. Some students decide to complete a MENA minor by taking a varied but smaller roster of courses, without requiring studying a language offered by the MENA Languages Program. Many students study abroad in the region, and their courses count towards the major here.

As a "program" and not a "department," MENA draws on faculty housed in several different departments in WCAS or other schools, such the School of Communications. The curriculum at Northwestern is always changing. The intellectual richness of these classes is vast, as are the talents and interests of our students and faculty. As such, students work in conjunction with a program advisor and consult with their professors to create their own plans of study.

What can I do after I graduate?

What can't one do with a Middle East and North African Studies major or minor? This plan of study gives students a sophisticated critical understanding of one of the most important regions in our contemporary world. At the same time, MENA students learn to interrogate the world and themselves through the lens of other languages and cultures. They hone their aptitude for asking good questions and analyzing problems, conducting research, and effectively presenting ideas in writing or in speech. Such skills, knowledge, and habits of mind are the hallmarks of a rigorous liberal arts education at a great university like Northwestern. These abilities provide a foundation for success in a wide range of careers. Some of our graduates go on to law, foreign service, management, or medical schools with the intention of practicing their professions abroad where they can make use of their specialized area knowledge. Others move directly into jobs with schools, businesses, media, government, or non-profit organizations. Some go on to graduate study in the humanities, social sciences, or the natural or life sciences—sometimes with a continuing focus on Middle East and North African society, culture, and/or politics—with the aim of working in academe or of pursuing one of a myriad of possible career paths. Some graduates work primarily in the Middle East or elsewhere overseas, while others remain in North America or live and work in a variety of places. On the whole, our graduates enjoy career success in an array of professions.

What are good classes for first-year students?

Advanced proficiency in a Middle Eastern language requires several years of study. If you suspect that you would like to study Arabic, Turkish, Persian, or Hebrew while at Northwestern, it would be best to try it out as a first-year student. If you studied one of these languages in high school, we encourage you to continue your language study. In order to understand your current proficiency and place you into the correct class, you will need to take a Language Placement Test.

Departments have different expectations regarding course pre-requisites. Some require that students take introductory courses or strongly recommend that you take 200-level courses. Others, such as the history department, encourage first-year students to take 200- or 300-level lecture classes. Lists of relevant classes include courses offered by MENA itself, and courses offered by departments such as Anthropology, History, Political Science, English, Religious Studies, and Art History. You should look at the websites of these departments for MENA-related courses. You may also want to look at the websites of faculty members and home departments for more information on required or suggested course sequences or simply ask the professor or other faculty members whether a particular course would be appropriate for first-year students. In any case, do jump in and begin exploring Middle East and North Africa-related classes in different disciplines. A world and lifetime of learning awaits!