After a long day of traveling, we landed in Amman late at night and commuted to our hotel. The following morning we had our first of many traditional Jordanian breakfasts including bread, hummus, eggplant, and (as a surprise to me) pasta. We had an information session with AMIDEAST staff and it was time for the moment we were all waiting for, meeting our host families.
I was introduced to Maha and Khalil that afternoon and they proved to be exceptional hosts. They are an older couple who have grandchildren who visit the house frequently. They were very clear in their instructions for us and they were eager to help with any concerns or requests we had. As you may expect, beyond speaking Arabic on a daily basis, our personal growth through cultural immersion was much greater living with a host family compared to living in an apartment.
Classes in Amman with Dr. Omar Rifai were much different than those in Ireland. As described by Dr. Omar himself, Paul Arthur is a teacher, whereas Dr. Omar is a diplomat. As such, our classes were highly participatory. Our class routine was each of the students giving input on that day’s readings for the first half of class. And in the second half he gave his lesson on that day’s subject with questions and discussion mixed in. What sets this class apart is Dr. Omar’s experience as a diplomat. Not only did we have the opportunity to meet and ask questions to the Israeli Ambassador to Jordan, we were able to hear Dr. Omar’s stories of his experience as the Jordanian ambassador to Israel every day.
As the Peace & Conflict portion of the program concluded, we nervously awaited the start of the Intensive Arabic session. Even though we read the word intensive probably 100 times researching and applying to this program, nothing could prepare us for this. We had class from 8:30-2:00 every day, and we had between and hour to three hours of homework per day. This is not meant to alarm any potential applicants. Rather, this is meant to be good news. All of us on the program look at the intensity of the Arabic as a good thing and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our time in Amman wasn’t all work of course. We had the chance to camp and hike in the Wadi Rum Desert. We saw one of the new ancient wonders of the world, Petra. We swam in the Dead Sea and visited the beautiful mosaic community of Madaba. We visited the beautifully preserved Roman ruins of Jerash. And we organized, independently from AMIDEAST, a trip to the Aqaba on the Red Sea. I also had the opportunity to take a weekend to go to Tel Aviv to visit a friend from school. All of these, as well of classes, were packed into our seven weeks.
As I write this blog on the plane ride back to Dublin, I am forced to reflect on what I will take back with me from this program. Besides increased Arabic proficiency, I learned the value of cultural experience. As the weeks progressed, I became familiar with the intricacies of the Arab culture. As I acted accordingly to the changes from American culture, I feel a greater capacity to empathize and relate to different groups of people. My work is not over though. I desire to go back to Jordan or another Arab country to continue to experience the culture and reach fluency.