USC Upstate News

Zack Awarded Fulbright Scholarship To Jordan, Spent 10 Months In The Middle East

07- 25- 2007

Spartanburg, S.C. – Dr. Lizabeth Zack, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Upstate, just returned from a ten month stay in the Middle East where she did a combination of teaching and research around the theme of political protest and social movements at the University of Jordan in Amman. The University of Jordan is the most prestigious university in the country of Jordan and has an enrollment of more than 32,000 students. A prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, regarded by many as one of our country's best foreign diplomacy policies, enabled Zack to embark on this remarkable journey.

The courses that Zack taught were part of the American Studies program. Her American History course exposed Jordanian students to important political developments such as the Revolution and the Civil War. Another course Zack taught was the American Social System, with the course organized around the theme of equality and inequality in American society.

“It was an interesting adventure to discuss these themes with students who generally take it for granted that the U.S. is the land of opportunity and equality, even if they are critical of other aspects of American life, most particularly foreign policy in this region,” said Zack. “Much of the semester was devoted to looking closely at three dominant forms of inequality in American life, namely class, gender and racial inequality, and the ways structured inequality shapes the lives of individual Americans.”

Teaching at a Jordanian university was different from being on the USC Upstate campus. According to Zack, most young Jordanians spend the early years of school separated by gender. When they move on to university-level studies, men and women are in the classroom together for the first time.  

“Some of my female students spent little time in the company of men who were not family members or necessary authority figures, such as professors or bosses. In general, I think, the extent to which young Jordanians socialize with the opposite sex depends a lot on one’s family, religiosity, class, and where one lives. On campus, I see young men and women socializing and talking, or sitting on the floor together in the crowded coffee shop near our building. But there are also small and exclusive clusters of male or female students on benches and walking through campus.”

The time she spent in the Middle East has provided Zack with a much better understanding of the U.S. presence in the Middle East and how it affects people’s everyday lives. For example, the U.S. provides a lot of foreign aid money for water conservation, tourism and other economic development projects. At the same time, the instability connected to the U.S.-led war in Iraq sometimes hinders those development projects.

“I have learned a lot about our country and culture by teaching about it to students in the Middle East and seeing the U.S. through their eyes. I now have a lot of valuable experience and research to incorporate into my classes at USC Upstate,” said Zack. “There is no substitute for living in a region that you teach about – I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of the people, politics, culture and the general way of life in the Middle East.”

This fall, Zack’s urban sociology course will focus on cities in the Middle East and she will be able to include many personal experiences and more in-depth knowledge of the region.

“Students who take classes under Dr. Lizabeth Zack will certainly benefit from the time she spent living in Jordan and traveling to other parts of that region,” said Dr. John C. Stockwell, chancellor of USC Upstate. “It certainly makes her a stronger teacher and will drive classroom discussions and debates to be broader in nature. It’s a true benefit to the overall university community as relationships that Dr. Zack established in the Middle East can easily result in student exchange programs and other partnerships.”

Zack hopes to parlay her established relationships into possible long-term partnerships with faculty and administrators at the University of Jordan. There is great potential to establish a student exchange program with the two universities as well as holding joint classes via teleconferences to allow both the Middle Eastern and American students to interact and gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other.

“This could result in new study abroad programs and global classroom experiences, as well as opportunities for Middle Eastern students and scholars to come to South Carolina,” Zack said.

She also established relationships with three research centers in Jordan – the Center for Strategic Studies, American Center for Oriental Research and Center for British Research in the Levant – all of which will be helpful in her teaching and continued research.

This Fulbright isn’t the first award that Zack has received. She was awarded a Fulbright grant to France in 1996-97 where she conducted research for her doctoral dissertation on protest and identity in French colonial Algeria. She has also been awarded travel grants to present conference papers on the subjects of anti-Semitism, Islamic activism, and revolution in Algeria. In 2005, she won a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to work on her book manuscript, Identity and Conflict: The Making of the French and Algerians in Colonial Algeria, 1830-1962. And in 2005, the USC Upstate Center for International Studies and Programs sponsored Zack for a two-week faculty development seminar on “Contemporary Arab Culture and Society” at the University in Amman, where she got the idea to return.

Zack, a native of Lansing, Michigan, earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Michigan State University and her master’s and doctorate degrees from The New School for Social Research in New York City.

Jordan is a Middle Eastern country, bordered by Syria to the north, Iraq to the northeast, Saudi Arabia to the east and south and both Israel and the West Bank to the west. The official language is Arabic, but English is used widely in commerce and government and among educated people. Jordan has consistently followed a pro-Western foreign policy and traditionally has had close relations with the United States and the United Kingdom.

For more details, contact Dr. Lizabeth Zack at (864) 503-5739 or lzack@uscupstate.edu. A detailed blog of her experience in the Middle East can be accessed from the USC Upstate website at http://www.uscupstate.edu/journal/2006jordan.asp.