I traveled to Amman, Jordan for the Fall semester in order to complete an international internship with the Hinckley Institute of Politics. I was placed with the Ministry of Social Development, working within government institutions in Jordan. My original intent in studying abroad was to buff up my resume, complete an academic requirement for my major, and gain some practical experience speaking Arabic. The work that I have been doing has been very gratifying; I teach English in an orphanage two days a week, teach in a women’s shelter two days, and spend the final day at the Ministry office doing social research. I have grown a lot with my work here. In a few short months, I feel like I am much more independent, adaptable, and willing to take a leadership role. My Arabic has improved by leaps and bounds, and I feel much more comfortable communicating in a cross-cultural environment and overcoming language barriers. What took me by surprise though is that I gained much more from my life outside of work than I did from my actual program.
This was my first time traveling outside of the United States, discounting a day trip to Canada when I was twelve. I grew up in a small town in Idaho, and my idea of a grand adventure was moving to the East coast for a couple years. I put on a brave face as I went about my planning, but honestly, living in the Middle East was far outside my comfort zone, particularly since the program I chose required me to arrange the logistics, such as housing and travel arrangements, on my own. I was lucky to have so many people to support me. The Hinckley Institute connected me with a prior intern who loved Jordan enough to remain an additional year, and the help he and his wife provided was indispensable. Still, it was a major challenge for me to learn to navigate life in Amman. One moment that stands out occurred my second night in Jordan, I went into a restaurant by myself to order dinner, and literally froze. I was so overwhelmed! It was the first of many deer-in-the-headlights moments.
Amazingly though, within weeks I felt completely at ease. After 2 months here, there are honestly moments that I forget I’m halfway around the world. Life has started to feel normal here. I’m sure this is largely in part due to the quality of people I have met here. Everyone in Jordan has been fantastic! Within days of arriving, some Iraqi neighbors invited me to dinner, and I became quick friends with their daughter, who is about my age. A week and a half into the trip, I was even invited to attend my landlord’s son’s wedding! Amman is a very international city; I have actually met very few Jordanians here. Everyone is Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, or Egyptian. It has created a really interesting mesh of cultures, and a very welcoming environment. It is not unusual for a local girl to introduce herself to me in the street or at a café and offer an Arabic/English language exchange. There are plenty of foreigners from outside the region as well. I have a roommate from Honduras, close friends from Sweden and Denmark, and regularly hang out with Australians, Germans, Romanians, and Russians. I am truly getting an international experience!
The city is a perfect blend of ancient history, beautiful nature, and modern amenities. There is always something to do, and rarely time for sleeping. I drive past 2000 year old ruins on my way to work! There is salsa dancing on Thursdays, and organized hikes in the local Wadis every other Friday or so. Jerash, an ancient Roman city, is only an hour drive North, and luxury beach resorts are an hour South at the Dead Sea. With only two months left, I still have so much left on my list of things to do! Crusader castles to the East, Petra (one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World), Wadi Rum, and the Red Sea in the far South, and Jerusalem, only a short drive from Amman. And that’s just the start of the list!
Living abroad has certainly had its hard moments, but now that I have a taste for it, I almost don’t want to go home! It makes me feel like a stronger person knowing that I can not only survive on my own in a foreign environment, but I can thrive here. I can’t really think of any blatantly negative experiences that I’ve had in Jordan. Even the moments I struggled to figure something out, there was a lesson in it, and the task was easier the next time. In times of doubt, there was always someone to call for help. I can honestly say one of the best decisions I’ve made has been to come to Jordan, and I am already scheming to come back next summer!