At about the size of Arizona or Italy, Oman is a relatively small Gulf nation, with a population of about 4 million. With its welcoming people, gorgeous scenery, and year-round sunshine, we think it’s the perfect place to learn Arabic. In 2010, the United National Development Program (UNDP) announced that, compared to other nations, Oman had made the most progress in education and public health over the previous 40 years. In 2013 and 2015, Oman received a zero rating on the Global Terrorism Index, indicating the immense amount of safety that exists in the country.
The most recent UNDP rating of development also ranked Oman #57 out of 187 countries.
With the discovery of oil in the mid-1960s, and the transfer of power in 1970 when His Majesty Sultan Qaboos came to power, Oman was transformed from an isolated and undeveloped country with 6 km of paved roads, 3 schools (for boys only), and a life expectancy in the 40s, into a modern, stable nation with highly-developed highway system, a life expectancy similar to the United States, and hundreds if not thousands of schools and universities throughout. In fact, nowadays women outnumber men in higher education. Virtually all Omanis are Muslim, the majority of them adhering to Ibadhism, a distinct form of Islam.
Acceptance and tolerance of others, one of the major tenets of Ibadhism, results in a warm, open culture that is extremely welcoming and hospitable to foreign visitors. Omani families tend to be large and extended families even larger, making gatherings quite lively.
A foreign visitor who asks for directions or otherwise strikes up a conversation with an Omani oftentimes will be invited home for Omani coffee and dates and to meet the rest of the family. Given that this routinely occurs, and with the particular etiquette involved in drinking Omani coffee, we include an Omani coffee and dates session in our orientation for new students, which all find both informative and tasty!
Arabic is the official language of Oman, and English is widely spoken in many areas. In fact, throughout the country signs are bilingual, offering many opportunities to practice reading – and checking – Arabic skills. Also spoken are Swahili (due to the shared history of Oman and Zanzibar), Baluchi (an Iranian-related language), Urdu (spoken by Pakistanis and Indians), as well as several distinct tribal languages in the Dhofar region in southern Oman.
Living in Oman, you will notice that most Omanis wear traditional clothes: for men, this means a dishdasha, a long, (typically) white robe with a small tassel at the neck, and a kumma or embroidered cap for informal occasions, and a massar or turban for formal occasions or work at one of the government ministries.
Women’s clothing typically covers their skin, including arms and legs; in addition, it is customary for women to wear a hijab or head scarf to cover their hair. In Muscat, many women wear an abaya, a long black robe with matching black hijab, but in the interior of Oman, more colourful clothes prevail.