Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures B.A.

In the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELC) you work with faculty who have expertise in the history, languages and cultures of the Middle East. Stretching from Libya to Turkey and southward down the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East encompasses: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, and Yemen.

Students choosing this major study one or more Middle Eastern language (Arabic, Acient Egyptian, Hebrew, or Persian) while completing additional coursework in a chosen area of focus. The degree provides a solid grounding in this area of focus and an in-depth look at the ways in which modern scholars understand the continued international significance of the languages and cultures of the Middle East. The Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures is part of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures also offers an undergraduate minor.


Getting started

Your starting point in the major is language study and one of the 100 or 200 level non-language courses, based on your interests and potential area of focus. Languages that count toward the major are Arabic, Ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and Persian.

If you are new to your chosen Middle Eastern language, start with a 100-level introductory course in the fall semester. If you have prior Middle Eastern language experience, through formal or informal study or family heritage, contact the Director of Language Instruction to schedule a placement exam to determine which course level is the best fit for your current skills.

The department also offers some language classes during the summer through the IU Language Workshop, allowing you to focus and accelerate your language study.

Tracks and concentrations

Two tracks are available in the major: the Culture track and the Language track.

  • The Culture track requires study in Arabic, Ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, or Persian, through the intermediate level (4th semester level). You select additional courses in an area of focus, working with the MELC academic advisor to explore topics specific to your interests. This track provides more flexibility if you are interested in studying multiple areas or languages.
  • The Language track requires study in Arabic, Ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, or Persian, through the advanced level (6th semester level). You choose additional courses in an area of focus. This track gives you more developed language skills and is recommended for those who wish to pursue graduate studies or careers in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. This track is also recommended to students participating in the Arabic Flagship Program.

Upper level coursework

The Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures major allows you to personalize the curriculum with your language of specialization and related courses. Entry level courses will introduce you to your chosen Middle Eastern language and provide a broad view of the various cultures that make up the region.

As you identify an area of focus and continue with upper level coursework, you will further develop language competency and begin more in-depth study of a particular theme, topic, or Middle Eastern culture.

The academic advisor will help you select the best courses to suit your interests.

Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates

Students frequently combine their Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures coursework with other majors, minors, and certificates offered by the College of Arts and Sciences or other schools at IU Bloomington. Recently, the most commonly paired majors have been: International Studies, Political Science, Economics, History, and Jewish Studies.

The most common minors are: International Studies, Political Science, Central Eurasian Studies, Nonprofit Management, and African Languages.

Students in both MELC tracks have also pursued certificates in the Islamic Studies ProgramLiberal Arts and Management Program (LAMP), or Public and Civic Engagement (PACE).

Enhance your major

Working with faculty

When pursuing a major in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, you have the opportunity to work with faculty who have expertise and experience in the field. Take advantage of office hours to talk with your instructors about your performance in class, the content of assignments, and how the course helps you work toward your goals.

You can get involved in research as early as your freshman year. Many incoming freshmen apply to the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience (ASURE) program. ASURE students experience project-based learning enhanced by a community of supportive faculty and peers. Choose an ASURE path in the arts and humanities, social and historical studies, or natural and mathematical sciences. Consider joining one that will deepen your skills and knowledge in an area related to your major or a different one to become a more well-rounded thinker. 

As your interests develop, you might want to take an independent readings course under the guidance of faculty. Talk with the academic advisor or your instructors about this possibility.

IU Bloomington also has a number of related programs, Area Studies Centers, and organizations that may be of interest, including:


MELC offers two ways to earn departmental honors: a research track and an advanced Arabic track.

The research honors track is available to outstanding students with a high degree of language proficiency (through at least the sixth semester), and preferably eight semesters of Arabic language study (through NELC-A 450). Honors students in the research track work with a faculty mentor to complete an Honors Readings course and an honors thesis of 25+ pages.

Completing an honors thesis is a particularly good exercise if you are considering graduate school. Interested students are encouraged develop and refine their research interests early in their study, selecting courses that will provide a strong foundation.

The Arabic honors track is open to high achieving students taking NELC-A 400 and NELC-A 450. Among other requirements, this track requires writing two lengthy research paper (7,000 words each), composed in Arabic, while enrolled in NELC-A 400 and NELC-A 450.

High achieving students may be recognized for Academic Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, or be eligible for admission to the Hutton Honors College.

Undergraduate scholarships and awards

Funding opportunities specifically relevant to Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures students include:

The Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures awards the A. Haddawi Scholarship annually to a major or minor student who demonstrates outstanding academic achievement, an interest in the study of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and financial need. Each spring, the MELC Lectures and Awards Committee selects the winner of this scholarship from a list of faculty-nominated students.

Additionally, IU Bloomington offers a variety of funding opportunities:


Internships offer you a chance to develop both technical and transferable skills while making vital professional contacts with others in the field. Many students begin exploring internship opportunities, including overseas study programs with internships, as early as their freshman year.

Students pursuing the Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures major have held internships with these and other organizations:

Learn more about internships, including the possibility of receiving credit, through The Walter Center for Career Achievement, where you’ll find many resources for both domestic and international internships.

Foreign language study

As one of the premier institutions in the U.S. for the study of languages, IU Bloomington offers courses and resources in over 80 languages.

Here is partial list of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington:

Overseas study

Study abroad is an important part of undergraduate education in our increasingly interconnected world. You may wish to immerse yourself in the cultures and languages of the Middle East through overseas study. Consult with the academic advisor about the timing and requirements of this. Middle Eastern Languages and Culture students have studied in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Turkey, as well as locations around the world.

Relevant Indiana University programs include:

  • Advanced Arabic Language in Amman, Jordan
  • Middle East Studies in Amman, Jordan
  • Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel

Learn more about study abroad opportunities and locations through conversation with MELC faculty, your academic advisor and the Office of Overseas Study.

Student groups

Several student associations are relevant to students pursuing the MELC major:

Sigma Iota Rho is an honor society for students in the School of Global and International Studies. Members are eligible for scholarships and research grants, and have the opportunity to publish work and serve on the Editorial Board for the Journal of International Relations.

The HLS Living Learning Center integrates undergraduate living with formal and informal residential learning. The Global Living-Learning Community is another option of Living Learning Centers on campus. It integrates formal and informal residential learning for motivated undergraduates with international interests, regardless of academic discipline or major.

The Office of International Services hosts ongoing programs, including conversation clubs where you can meet people and practice language. They also maintain a list of student organizations that focus on international cultures.

Explore beINvolved to connect with any of the 750+ student organizations that already exist, or to start a new one.

Volunteer opportunities

There are numerous opportunities for volunteer engagement on campus and beyond. The following organizations can help connect you with community members and international visitors in the university community and beyond:

Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and organizations.

Professional organizations

The following are just a few of the professional organizations with interests in the Middle East:

Use the Indiana University Library system to search for Associations Unlimited, an online directory of associations, professional societies, non-profit organizations, and much more.

Build your skills

Through the major

The Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures major provides you with a set of skills and qualities that are relevant and transferable to many areas of study and work. These include:

  • Regional expertise: understand and analyze the causes and consequences of major events and trends in the countries of the Middle East
  • Language competence: communicate both socially and professionally in at least in one Middle Eastern language
  • Global context: situate Middle Eastern countries both geographically and historically in relation to other world regions
  • Critical thinking and source analysis: utilize both primary and secondary sources, evaluating cultural artifacts and texts in their historical context
  • Independent research: develop evidence-based arguments, defend your own position, and make informed oral and written presentations
  • Communication and leadership: inform and interact, both orally and in writing, with experts and non-specialists

Through a College of Arts and Sciences degree

Your coursework provides many opportunities to develop the following five foundational skills that will serve you well in every career path:  

  • Question critically
  • Think logically
  • Communicate clearly
  • Act creatively
  • Live ethically

These foundational skills will aid you in landing your first job and advancing professionally throughout your working life. Not only are these the skills that employers say they value most in the workplace, they provide the best preparation for lifelong success in a world of complexity, uncertainty, and change.

Skills desired by employers

Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers asks employers what skills and qualities they are looking for in recent college graduates.

The following are some of the most commonly desired attributes across many employment sectors:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Analytical and quantitative skills
  • Ability to take Initiative
  • Being detail oriented
  • Demonstrating adaptability
  • Technical skills relevant to the field
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Computer skills
  • Organizational ability

As you explore various career fields, pay attention to specific job descriptions and requirements. If there are areas where your skills or knowledge are lacking, talk with your academic advisor and career coach about how you can develop in those areas while you are at Indiana University.

Your academic advisor and career coach can also help you find ways to strengthen and deepen the knowledge you already have, becoming more prepared for whatever path you select after your college career.

Launch your career

Plan your search

A good starting point for exploring your career options is an appointment with a career coach

The Walter Center for Career Achievement also offers job search resources, career courses, job fairs, information about internships and full-time jobs, and help with social media networking through professional organizations. Get advice about how to write your resume and prepare for job interviews, too.

Explore and enroll in Career Communities to learn more about industries relevant to your interests.These offer unique information about each field, including alumni spotlights, opportunities andresources, and in-person events.

Maximize your career preparation with a career course. Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures majors should consider enrolling in ASCS-Q296 College to Career II: Navigate Your Arts and Sciences Experience. The section dedicated to Hamilton Lugar School students provides the opportunity for you to explore the relationship between your field of study and life after graduation, while developing an academic and career development plan for post-collegiate success. If you are considering continuing your studies after graduation, you may wish to enroll instead in the section dedicated to graduate school preparation. Regardless of the section you select, you will leave the class with your resume, a cover letter or personal statement, and a LinkedIn profile ready to go!

The job market

Talk with MELC faculty, the academic advisor, career coach, and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of the Hamilton Lugar School.

Initial and long-term destinations for graduates include positions in many job sectors: federal and state government, military or civil service, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, the cooperative job sector, education, research and policy think tanks, banking and business.

Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures majors become researchers, information analysts, linguists, policy advisors, educators, translators, tourism advisors, businesspersons, security personnel, journalists, or aid workers, among many other options.

Want to see where your fellow majors go right after graduating from IU? Check out the Walter Center’s First Destinations survey!

Need more ideas? The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career information about hundreds of occupations.

Post-graduate short-term experiences

After graduation, a short-term experience or internship can help you make connections, gain life skills, and assess your interest in future careers.

The beginning of your post-graduate career might be an ideal time to explore an international internship or other short-term experience through organizations such as these:

Find international English teaching jobs through organizations such as these:

Using these and other resources, your career coach can help you craft a unique post-graduate short-term experience, whether in the United States or abroad.

Fellowships for post-graduate study

Fellowships are temporary post-graduate opportunities to conduct research, work in a field or fund your education. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profit and government organizations.

Good resources for finding fellowship opportunities include:

Graduate and professional study

When applying to graduate or professional schools, you'll need letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Make a practice of attending office hours early in your academic career, to get to know your professors and discuss your options for advanced study in the field.

With careful planning, and in consultation with the Health Professions and Prelaw Center, you could also prepare to enter law school, medical school, or other programs in the health professions.

Students who have pursued graduate studies in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures have gone into careers with top academic and research institutions, the United Nations, World Bank, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, political groups, business and entrepreneurship, media, and the military and intelligence communities.

Students with the undergraduate degree have entered graduate programs many fields at Indiana University and other institutions:

African Studies, Anthropology, Business, Central Eurasian Studies, Comparative Literature, Economics, Education, History, Jewish Studies, Law, Linguistics, Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, Philosophy, Political Science, Public Affairs*, Public Health, Public Policy, Religious Studies, Sociology

*includes the option of a dual masters with Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at IU Bloomington

Alumni connections

Talk with Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures faculty, the academic advisorcareer coach and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of this degree.

The College of Arts + Sciences has thousands of active alumni. Check out the College Luminaries program, which connects students with the College's most influential, successful, and inspiring alumni.

Join the Walter Center Success Network to remain in touch, network directly with College of Arts +Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.

Is it for you?

Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and interests. They typically possess some of the following qualities:

  • Interest in the countries and cultures of the Middle East
  • Wish to study one or more language of the region
  • Fascination with the ancient history of the region
  • Awareness of the significance of the region in contemporary geopolitics
  • Intellectual curiosity and imagination
  • Desire to gain expertise working with others who study the region

Learn more

Contact the Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures academic advisor and schedule an appointment to explore your options. Complete information about the requirements of the major can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.

Department website
Advisor email address