Latakia in 1980-81: Samuel Pickering’s Fulbright Year

Samuel Pickering Jr., "Pedagogica Deserta: Memoir of a Fulbright Year in Syria," The American Scholar, 2001.

This moving article about Latakia in 1980-1981 was sent to me by Damian Quinn, who lives in Damascus. Having spent 1981-1982 as a Fulbright student at the University of Damascus, I was particularly touched by the article. Perhaps it was just nostalgia. Damian wrote:

I'm sure you will be interested in this fantastic article that Jeff, an American graduate student at Georgetown who I met here this summer, sent me. It's by a American who taught in Lattakia under the aegis of the Fulbright programme in the late 70's at the apogee of the Muslim Brotherhood insurgency, and his article gives a great flavour of what it was like living in provincial Syria during those times. Its a wonderful testament to his year here and the episodes he recounts such as his student's tea party, listening to the 1812 overture at night with bombs exploding around them and teaching Hamlet at Tishreen University are pitch perfect. Not sure if you'd want to post it, but its a great read.

All the best, Damian

Samuel Pickering and wifeSamuel F. Pickering (born September 30, 1941) is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. His unconventional teaching style was the inspiration for the character of Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society. Pickering specializes in the familiar essay, children's literature, nature writers, and 18th and 19th century English literature. In addition to teaching, he has published many collections of non-fiction personal essays as well as over 200 articles.

Sam Pickering was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, where he attended (and later taught at) Montgomery Bell Academy. He received his B.A. from University of the South, his second B.A. and M.A. from St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and his second M.A. and Ph.D from Princeton University.

Critique Magazine's web site has archived some interviews with Pickering, "A Visit with Pickering" and "On Writing". An excerpt from Pickering "On Writing":

…I tie all kinds of things together because I like to drift. That’s the way life is. Some folks don’t like that.

Comments (2)

adiamondinsunlight said:

Oh, what a wonderful, rich article. My aunt and uncle used to visit Damascus during that same period and my uncle has said that the State Department’s advice was: “Try to look as American as possible”, in order to avoid being taken for a Russian. He has also said that it was the one and only time that he has ever been advised to play _up_ his American-ness while in the Middle East.

Really, what a beautifully written, highly self-reflective piece. Thank you (and thanks to Mr. Quinn) for posting it.

October 6th, 2007, 2:35 pm


w Dayoub said:

Dear Sir,
It was pleasure to read ¨ Pedagogica Deserta: Memoir of Fulbright Year in Syria ¨ which I reed it more than one time . I was a high school student in Latakia during that time. It was terrible events and still a vivid nightmare. I was in tears when I read this sentence ¨ Syria exhausted me emotionally ¨. It is a very honest account of what happened .

Many many thanks.

March 21st, 2008, 8:54 pm


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