During the summer of 2013, I was given a unique opportunity to go on a study abroad trip to the Middle East country of Jordan. This trip was orchestrated between three different organizations; Project Global Officer (GO), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University study abroad office, and International Studies Abroad (ISA). I and other students from the ERAU Prescott campus and Daytona campus, and students from other colleges across the nation signed up for this trip. This provided us a great way to learn a new language and to travel the world.
The trip consisted of spending eight weeks in Amman, Jordan to learn Arabic and immerse ourselves in the culture. Learning Arabic was challenging, but at the same time it was easy. The challenge was the fact that it was a completely new language to learn. However, the ease came directly from the total immersion in a primarily Arabic speaking country. This type of learning was helpful because once we walked out of the classroom, the Arabic did not stop. Outside learning became more intense and required much more focus in order to understand the language and the local dialect, then to effectively communicate back and forth with native speakers.
We used Arabic for essential communication such as purchasing food or having to give the taxi driver directions. We also tried to practice daily conversational speech. Personally, I enjoyed asking our taxi drivers where they are from and what some of their hobbies were.
Aside from the use of the Arabic language there were many cultural rules that we had to learn. The Islamic culture presented social challenges that we were not used to compared to culture in America. One of the social expectations that felt unusual to follow was to be more conservative with one’s life. This expectation covers a wide variety of social norms that most people follow such as wearing pants and a nice shirt in public instead of shorts and tee shirts and no shouting or outlandish speaking especially speaking out against the king.
Aside from the conforming rules, the culture was interesting and fun to partake in. There was a temptation to buy more products than we would in America because the streets were filled with vendors and solicitors. There was always something being sold in every direction, whether it was food to get on the way to and from destinations, getting new clothes, or buying another nick-nack for the home. Somebody was always trying to sell something so it was not hard to find and buy goods.
Food in Jordan was something that we all feared before we arrived, and then we came to love what was offered. One thing that was noticeable with the food was there were no preservatives used and thus it truly tasted fresh and I felt much healthier eating the food there. A couple of the most popular foods were hummus with pita bread and shawarma. These are good foods to eat however, the one dessert that was life changing for all of us was kunafa. Kunafa is a cheese pastry drowned in sugary syrup and the cheese is held together with dough or noodle threads.
After adjusting to Middle Eastern life we were taken on weekend trips to a couple of Jordan’s most famous tourist attractions. The first place we ventured to was the city of Aqaba. The city rests on the coast of the Red Sea and overlooks the south tip of Israel and the east coast of Egypt. The city offered great seafood, clear water to snorkel in, and a scuba diving adventure around a sunken ship. The second excursion we went on was to the city of Petra. It was one of Jordan’s oldest cities and truly a marvel to explore. The city was built by carving stones from the top to the base. The city was in full use up until the late 1970s when the government turned it into a tourist site. The weekend trips were a completion to our whole journey to Jordan and made the trip an experience of a lifetime.
Studying abroad was a great trip for all of us who went. According to student Ahrash Aleshi, “I learned to take life more slowly and enjoy new culture, become more open-minded about the world, and increase my adaptability into new regions.” I would recommend that any student take the opportunity to go and study abroad, it is a life changing experience and people will be surprised of what they learn.