My experience was a 10-week study abroad in Amman, Jordan. I studied Classical Arabic and the Jordanian dialect at the Qasid Institute while living in Amman for the summer. The Qasid Institute is an excellent place to learn the Arabic language affiliated with training people from the U.S. Department of State in Arabic.
I recommend time abroad to anyone. It seems like a fairytale or dream come true at first but it wears off and you learn how to become comfortable in unfamiliar environments. I am much MUCH more travel savvy. I can figure out public transportation or housing. I think it was goof that I didn’t study abroad in the Western world as well. The Middle East and Near East lead such different lives than what we are accustomed to. I had Muslim roommates and was in Jordan during their holy month of Ramadan, and it was awesome seeing such a huge shift in cultures. I went from waking up to the Call to Prayer at 5 in the morning to stopping my homework in the evening to listen to it and stare out of my window at the city. I learned our society is much less friendly and more paranoid when it comes to interacting with strangers.
I suppose lot of my assumptions were shattered upon arrival. I just imaged your standard image of the Middle East depicted in 1001 Nights, but was shocked by how modernized Jordan is. Jordan is the most liberal of the Arab countries so I can only judge by what I saw. But there were plenty of people wearing blues jeans and eating at McDonalds. They were very liberal when it came to their women. All most girls wore were their hijab (head scarves) which came in many elaborate styles and bright colors to show off their own unique personalities. It was way ore hilly then I expected and a lot less organized. There were streets signs but no one used them. You gave direction strictly by landmarks and directions like left or right. All in all it was a major shift in my view of the Middle East. I think the most important thing in life is empathy whether it be with friends, family, strangers, or enemies you need to understand their situation and unique views in order to react to situations responsibly. Arabs get a terrible reputation in America mostly due to the media. There’s an enormous level of Islamiphobia. They really aren’t bad people some people I met in Jordan have been some of the most, noble people I’ve met in life. Of course there will always be those who judge the many by the few which is unfortunate.
My experience just meeting and speaking with people is really what caused this shift in perspective. To how scholarly, bright and energetic my professors were to kindnesses from strangers. When I walked through Amman it felt no different than walking through Columbus. I had this same realization when I went to France when I was younger. You go to countries having these tourist fueled romantic views of romantic countryside views or cultural experiences. Once you realize these people are just like you they have their taxes, family troubles, and traffic delays it really makes you wonder why there’s so much tension between us and the Middle East. All it ever is, is people fighting people there’s little attempt made at mutual understanding from either side. Which is why this experience was so valuable.
I think one of the most important things in life is empathy and I went in with hopes of understanding a culture and people I had little exposure to growing up. One of the greatest events was being able to attend Qasid while it was the holy month of Ramadan. The entire month I essentially had to fast with the populace because no restaurants were open and it was illegal to eat in public. I grew a lot of sensitivity to the religion throughout that entire month. I attended a prayer and breaking of the fast with a few Muslim friends in order to see what it was like. During the days the city was asleep and it looked like a ghost town. Everyone was inside sleeping, but at nights the capitol seemed to erupt with energy. The nights of Ramadan were awesome families visiting each other, children firing fireworks in the street, and all the feasting that was done at sunset was definitely something I won’t soon forget. Being in a predominantly Islamic country as opposed to a predominantly Christian country you understand the feeling of being an outsider at least to the priorities of the nation. It feels as though you are living in an organization not built for someone like you. This helped me realize the disenfranchisement and segregation many Muslims must feel in the United States especially when another terrorist attack occurs and the media tries to fear monger and blame the entire Muslim community.
I also witnessed the corruption of the Jordanian government. The royals of Jordan have some absolutely ridiculous laws such as a 100% tax on cars. All luxury items are heavily taxed but this one in particular makes it difficult to get around Jordan. It’s almost like you are at the whims of public transportation and taxi drivers in order to get around. Which is extremely difficult if you cannot communicate where you want to go as directions are given by landmarks rather than by street names and addresses. Something like this really makes one thankful of the United States. Our political system isn’t perfect but we’re lucky to be in a country where our needs are taken into account instead of taken advantage of. The back and forth bickering of our politicians may make it seem like we can’t get any work done quickly but the same time this helps prevent corrupt and damaging laws from flying through our Congress.
These transformations have been valuable to my life as they have made me thankful for what I have. Sure travelling is often romanticized and don’t get me wrong I learned a lot of valuable information on a people that I had never really met before. But by the end of my experience I was happy to come home. Although I still have that spark of exploration and travel in my heart I am much more thankful for all that we have here in the United States, from personal liberties to ice cream and rain. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to travel again in the near future. For now I will finish up undergrad and grad school and hopefully when I have a stable job and way to support myself I can travel abroad again. For now I have finished all the requirements for my Arabic minor at Ohio State and plan on continuing with Arabic studies beyond college privately.