STEP Study Abroad Reflection: CIEE Summer Arabic Language Intensive in Amman, Jordan

Marcie Rotblatt

This summer, I spent eight weeks studying Arabic in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. I learned both Modern Standard Arabic and the Jordanian colloquial dialect and was in class for about five hours a day, learning about one year’s worth of Arabic. In addition to the class time, I also stayed with a host family and was able to travel around Jordan to learn more about the country and its vast history.

I entered this experience knowing very little about Jordan and only having a basic understanding of Arabic. I felt wholly unprepared for spending the summer in this country, not only because of my lack of cultural knowledge but also the intensity of the academic aspect of the program. Although I was out of my element in Amman, by the end of the summer the city became my second home. Because I was able to fully immerse myself in the culture and daily life, I gained a much deeper understanding towards Jordanians and the differing mindset of the Middle East. I believe that Jordanians are some of the most hospitable and welcoming people, not only towards foreigners but also towards each other. It was a common sight to see multiple people stopped on the side of the road to help someone with their broken-down car, and everyone I met was incredibly kind-hearted and generous. In addition, I was in Jordan for the last two weeks of Ramadan and was able to experience the holiest month in the Muslim calendar with my host family. Living and studying in Amman gave me a deeper cultural understanding and appreciation for life in the Middle East, which is vital for my personal and professional development as I hope to one day work in the Middle East. I grew personally and academically and maintain that living in Amman left me a more open and driven individual.

I find it difficult to pinpoint the single most influential experience of my summer in Amman, because it was the culmination of each minor experience that led to my personal growth. Through the program I was given the opportunity to learn more about Jordan’s history and culture through trips to ruins and religious sites such as the Jordan River and King Al-Hussein Mosque. I gained a much deeper appreciation for Islam and the individual religious experience, as well as a further understanding of ancient Roman, Ummayad, and Ottoman history. We also spent time at a Bedouin camp and learned about how they live and thrive in the harsh Jordanian desert. Most importantly, I was able to experience the vastness of our world and complexities of the individuals who live there, especially when pertaining to often-simplified conflicts and stereotypes of the Middle East.

I truly grew as a student during my summer in Amman through the academic rigor of the program and the different teaching style used in Jordan. The Arabic intensive was easily the hardest academic endeavor I have ever pursued, especially because the instructors held very high expectations towards everyone’s academic performance and growth. Class in Amman is a much more formal affair than in the United States, though the professors were also more willing to help with comprehension because of this. Further, Arabic is an incredibly difficult language for me and studying the contrasting formal and colloquial languages in a country which primarily speaks Arabic forced me far out of my comfort zone. Being thrust into this situation certainly helped my understanding of the language and furthered my appreciation and ability to use Arabic in daily life.

Because I was given the opportunity to spend a summer immersed in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture, I feel much more at home in Amman and am eager to work in the Middle East in the future. I found it necessary to study in the Middle East because academically I am focusing on international relations and human rights within the Middle East. I do not want to approach this with my Western perspective but rather with an appreciation and mindset appropriate to the culture of which I am focusing. I now feel much more prepared and well-equipped to appropriately reflect upon and represent the region. In addition, this summer has significantly improved my understanding of Arabic and has allowed me to continue pursuing the minor. My summer in Amman allowed me to become a more understanding and adventurous individual and I would not have changed this experience for the world.

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