A Year in Jordan

 By Laura Razzuri

When I made the decision to study abroad for a full year, the first person I called was my mother.

“Finally!” my mother said. She had been begging me to consider a full year abroad and had been waiting for me to come to my senses and just do it. My mother knew from experience how beneficial a year abroad would be for language study. She had studied Spanish in Ecuador and I was going to study Arabic in Jordan. Most people would call me insane to spend a whole year in the very center of the Middle East right as the Arab Spring is still raging through the region. But as an interdepartmental Middle Eastern Studies major, nothing could be more exciting. I have been incredibly fortunate to have the guidance from Assistant Professor of Arabic Martin Isleem to navigate the Arab language and culture as well as Associate Professor of Political Science Tony Massoud for his support in creating a focused major on the Middle East.

It is an amazing thing to actually see and live through the things I have studied in my classes at the University. I’ve gained so much insight and perspective just by walking the streets of Amman and talking with Jordanians. When I first arrived, I quickly noted the cultural differences between Jordan and the United States. But as I finally settled in, I actually began to note the similarities and how much we are alike as people. I realized how similar the relationships between friends and family and everyday life in Jordan and America are. It is a beautiful thing to connect with people from completely different walks of life.

My first semester, I was studying Arabic everyday along with material-heavy courses on diplomacy and policy studies, but I learned most outside of the classroom. I will never forget the day when the King of Jordan announced the removal of important oil subsidies. It nearly doubled the cost of heating a household and refueling a car. Riots and protests sprung up throughout the entire country. This was the Arab Spring happening right before my eyes. I was actually witnessing history in the making.

One of the most remarkable experiences I have had so far was visiting the Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp, one of the largest Syrian refugee camps along the northern border of Jordan. As we drove up, all I could see were rows and rows of white tents, and the camp was still expanding every day. I had the opportunity to visit families and talk with them about their experiences and the situation in Syria. Even in their current conditions, these families were inviting me into their tents offering me tea and cookies. The famous Arab hospitality still endured even through the worst of hardships. I will never forget how kind they were. Regardless of how tired and saddened they were, they were eager to share their experiences with us. They were so happy to meet students like myself, who were taking the time to learn their language and culture. To them, it was a sign of respect, a sign that maybe the relationship between the East and the West might change for the better. To them, it showed that people cared and that hopefully the conflict would end sooner than later. It was a powerful and yet humbling experience that I will never forget.

For my last few months in Jordan I am living with a family. They are amazing and are always feeding me. I am learning so much more about Arab culture and household dynamics. I know it’s going to be tough to say good-bye to them and to Jordan. Amman truly feels as if it has become my second home. I navigate the city like a Jordanian and can haggle successfully in the markets and cabs. There have even been occasions where I have been mistaken for a Jordanian because of my dark hair, features and confident Arabic. This year-long experience has made me fall in love with Jordan, with Arabic and with Arab culture. If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that I will be back.

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