Tuesday, February 25, 2014
This past weekend was incredible. We went to Wadi Rum and Petra. What was seen cannot possibly be described (unless you’ll take “there was a lot of sand” as a description!). You always know it was an excellent adventure when the last thing you want to do the next day is get out of bed because your feet hurt so badly! This trip was included in the CIEE tuition, and everything was provided including transportation, entry to Petra, food and lodging. Wadi Rum. We took a bus down to Wadi Rum, and at the end were greeted with a delicious lunch. Come on, how often is the food NOT good? I ate way too much, as usual. After food… we jumped into the back of a “jeep” to go on a ride through the sand. Needless to say, Wadi Rum is incredibly beautiful. We stopped a few times, one of the times to climb an incredibly steep sand dune. That was most certainly worth it, especially climbing up the rocks on top of the sand dune. Of course, being short doesn’t help climbing up, but it’s always worse trying to figure out how to get back down! After the jeep rides, we met up with some camels and a ton of kuffeyahs. They gave us each a kuffeya to put on, because they like making Americans look like a ton of posers! Just kidding (but maybe serious, I don’t know!). Those of us who brought our own continued to wear those, you know – protecting heads, hair, and faces from the sun and sand. This is also when Kim and I started to channel our inner Bedouin. (Ha, we’re both clearly such city-girls). Of course, before getting ON the camels, I participated in a quick pickup game of soccer in the middle of the desert. What else would you expect from me? We rode the camels to our tents, where we watched the sunset and settled in for some music, a little bit of dancing, food, and a couple gallons of tea (I seriously think I may have drank a gallon). They made the bread fresh, right as we were standing there. Woke up early to watch the sunrise and eat another yummy breakfast with more fresh bread, then hit the road to Petra. Petra. It is an indescribable place. One of the Seven Wonders of the World. Absolutely gorgeous. A whole lot bigger than I thought it was! We walked approximately 8km and more than 1,000 stairs. It was hot, but it was totally worth it. At the top of the “best” view at the end of the world, we could see over to the mountains of Palestine. On the way back to Amman, we stopped for a snack break near a Crusader castle. The day closed with an absolutely beautiful sunset.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Global citizenship is a hot topic among a lot of universities in the United States. Students are pushed to study abroad and become “global citizens”. What does this even mean? There are many attempts to define this phrase, but all of them fall short without a lengthy explanation. To me, it has a lot more to it than merely traveling. There are many people who brag about how many countries they have been to. I’m not going to lie, I love adding a new country to my list. In order to be forming oneself as a “global citizen”, though, being culturally aware is more important than just seeing the sites. Spending less than a week in a country or region will not let one see the culture, the politics, history, sports rivalries, and common foods. One will get a quick overview of “this is our favorite food”, but often the favorite food and the daily foods differ by insane amounts. If you aren’t paying attention to how people are dressed, you’re doing it wrong. If you only see the area through a camera (or tablet) lens, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t paying attention to hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language, you’re doing it wrong. In other words, to be a “global citizen” one has to accept responsibility for educating oneself on the world, instead of just seeing the world. When it comes to study abroad, many people think that spending four months in a different country will give an all-access pass to not only this culture, but every culture outside of the United States. Can anyone tell me what the differences are between Asia and South America? Between Europe and the Middle East? I have to take a bargain that nobody will have any trouble coming up with a full list of cultural differences. So, how does studying abroad make someone a “global citizen”? Well, it just opens the door. Studying abroad teaches you flexibility. It (in most countries) shows one how to be a minority; how to struggle with a non-native language. Basically, one learns that the whole world is not the same as one’s own neighborhood. That is the ticket to a gate. What is beyond that gate is for each individual to decide and discover. Alas, this can only happen if one does study abroad, “right”. Exactly the same way as traveling right. Here’s a shocker: Did you know that study abroad isn’t about drinking and partying in a different country? Studying abroad is about experiencing a different culture. Having a lot of time to explore the depth of situations – such as political atmosphere, gender equality, the price and availability of basic commodities like food and water, what sort of toilets they use, everything! Although, if someone is drinking a lot, I’m sure they will become acquainted with the toilets at some point… In the end, global citizenship requires one to acknowledge their own bias and privilege. As an American citizen, we have certain advantages. We have English as our native language. We have full access to water. Women are allowed to work in public. Most importantly, we have that blue passport. Here in Jordan, water is scarce. It is one of the countries on the top end of the "Least Renewable Water Supplies" lists. Most homes get a set amount in a tank every week. If you run out before the end of the week, tough luck. I would not say that there is major gender inequality, but the culture is definitely more shy with gender relations than in the United States. There is no problem with women walking the streets alone, working, or speaking with men. Taking a taxi? Make sure you’re in the back seat. Only men can sit in the front. Then that passport. There are so many Palestinians who have lost their homes and hometowns who now reside in Jordan, and can never return to their homes. Many American students here travel to Israel on the weekends or breaks. Upon return, many are surprised by the sheer jealousy of their Palestinian peers. With that blue passport, we can travel to nearly any place in the world without question, as well as being able to expect to be taken care of by our embassies, removed from bad situations (ex: war breaks out), and overall simply able to be protected by our government even when across borders. In the end, I’m not trying to preach or sound like I know it all. I’m just trying to highlight a major difference between traveling and actually learning about the place you’re visiting. There is a lot more to a country, culture, and people than what you can see on a superficial walk-through. Traveling is a vacation from real life. Global citizenship requires a heavy dose of reality. Do you want to be a global citizen or a tourist?
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Anytime someone is traveling, they should be gaining new insight into their own lives, personalities, and habits. One of the biggest things to reflect on is what you look like to the people around you. More specifically: where you come from. For me, it has always been interesting to talk to foreigners in the United States and people from the countries that I am visiting to see what their perspective is on the United States and Americans. A lot of times, they love Americans and (sadly) American pop culture, but dislike the government. This brings to question though, what is an “American”? Often, Americans are even more overgeneralized than we can even imagine. If you asked someone here in Amman, chances are all Americans are white, Christian, rich, and democracy-loving people. This does not differ much from many conversations I’ve had with people from across the world. Let’s take a moment and look at this: White: As of the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 223.6 million “whites”. This group accounts for 72% of the population, but includes Eastern and Western European groups, Persian, and even the Arab populations. People of African descent account for 13% (38.9 million). Nearly 3 million American Indian and Alaskan Natives, and another half a million Hawaiian Natives are present. The Hispanic population accounts for 16% (50.5 million) of the US total. Christian: In the United States, 78.4% of people identify as Christian. Fifty-one percent of Americans are Protestant, and 23.9% identify as Catholic. Jews account for 1.7% of the population, Buddhists 0.7%, Muslims 0.6%, and Hindu 0.4%. There are representatives from Baha’i, Sikhism, New Age religions, and Native American religions/traditions as well. There is also the 16.1% who is unaffiliated or unreligious. Rich: In 2010, 15.1% of Americans lived in poverty. Thirty-six percent of Americans living in poverty are children. This means that 16.4 million children are living in poverty, in the United States. Some people living in poverty manage to keep a roof over their head, but cannot put food on the table. Some are homeless. Many are not able to afford cars, and must therefore rely on public transportation in attempts to maintain a job. Democracy: People hate war. People support wars. People pay taxes. People evade taxes. People love the president. People want the president dead. Some people vote, most people don’t. Some people know the government system, some people can’t even name the three main branches. There is a broad spectrum of political opinions, knowledge, and activity in the United States. People don’t realize that. How do we teach people about this? Well, do we really need to be teaching anybody anything? The United States has problems, just like everywhere else. Just because we succeed in some areas does not mean that we should dominate all. Every area has their own culture, traditions, problems, and solutions. Perhaps they can teach us something, if the United States ever grows out of our teenage years where we just have the answer to everything. What we need to do is get more representative diversity on the television and in films that are viewed worldwide, and continue to try and level the playing field in education and wealth a little more each generation (clarification: incrementally, not proposing a switch to a full-blown socialist system. This really isn’t a “political” post). We can learn so much from other cultures, instead of always impressing ours upon them. So who is an American? You tell me. Sources: www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb11-cn125.html religions.pewforum.org/reports www.npc.umich.edu/poverty
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Week one, Thursday: Well, my host family is very nice. The only thing nicer is the weather. Hello blue skies, every day! My host sister (I have a host "sister" and "brother" instead of a "mom" and "dad") is pregnant, and due in April. How exciting?! They already have a 2 (Julia) and a 5 year old (Mohammad). We had our Arabic proficiency exams yesterday. What. The. Heck. Haha! I feel for anyone who has ever had to take a proficiency exam. It was three hours for writing and listening, and only three of us managed to finish. I really think the only reason I finished was because of my awesome skill of skipping questions when I know I have no answer! Right out of that, we did our individual oral interviews. My brain doesn't switch like that! Many of us are pretty sure we failed the speaking part though, so it's not just me. We get our scores on Sunday (fingers crossed). This morning, I saw a guy in a donkey making deliveries (in the city...) and I was proposed to by the taxi driver. "Enti...enti...you...want...zowj.... Bedou?" Proposal #1! Who wants to help me keep count? On the way home, I was trying to tell the driver how to get back to my house. We got to the important traffic circle (basically all directions in Amman are given by traffic circle. "Go to this circle", and then direct the rest from there) and I told him to turn right. He said "no, I think you mean left...", and I wasn't too confident so I said okay (none of the taxi drivers know where I live, and I still am not too positive... But I think I am after today!). As soon as we went left, I knew he was wrong so called my brother. He fixed it! Anyways... The point is, I was right! Week two, Thursday: I was going to do an opinion post, but figured you all would be a little bit more interested in another life-post while I'm still bumbling around. So, here it goes. Last Friday, a few students and I went down to the "sooq", or the Friday market in Abdali. Kinda crazy (not in a bad way), but definitely glad we had guys with us. It's basically tents made out of tarps, that fills the area of at least one (maybe two) old-town Detroit city blocks. They sell everything from gummy bears to basketballs, from soccer shoes to abayas. For cheap. And you can barter. It's basically a giant Salvation Army, some shops are new, some are used, and some seem to be old collegiate hoodies from the United States. I met Khadijah and Angie on Saturday to go downtown, and they were showing me all the spots to waste my money. If I go over budget this trip, it will be their faults. Just sayin'! I did pretty well though, these two are Americans and haven't quite mastered the Jordanian peer pressure yet. The first week of classes: I was given my Arabic placement, and I landed two whole levels above what I expected (Intermediate 2 instead of Beginner 2). Needless to say, I've stressed myself out to the end of the earth and back a few times over this. In the end, after talking to the director of Arabic and my professor, I've decided to stay in this level (not that they gave me much of a choice. Jordanians are excellent at peer pressure). In any case, the next few weekends are going to be spent learning 12 chapters of fusha vocabulary and grammar structures. At least the colloquial class is easy (don't tell my Saudi boys that they helped me at all, they might feel too important!) Dealing with taxi drivers continues to be a trip, and I don't suspect it will get any better. I had one the other day who didn't look a day over 15, and the one I had today looked like the most annoyed person on earth. Yesterday I thought the taxi was going to fall apart, to the point I was debating getting out and hailing another taxi! More than once, the drivers think I've said Dwar Al-Awwl instead of Dwar Al-Waha. I can't quite figure it out, other than maybe they assume I'm a stupid American and saying Dwar Al-Wahed! I woke up yesterday morning with a migraine, so when it didn't go away by this morning... I had an adventure to the pharmacy. Thank God most of the pharmacists here speak at least a little English, because "headache" is one of those words I can never remember. Oh well, when I went to my professor's office hours and mentioned I wasn't feeling well, I was offered ZamZam and dates. God is good, even if it just is healing by happiness!
Monday, January 27, 2014
Well, this was definitely the start of an adventure. My flight here had some memorable quirks, but nothing too terrible. The arrival in Amman was obviously exciting. Now it’s time for orientation! Here’s a quick timeline of my trip so far (times per my time zone!): Saturday 9:30am – I wake up to finish stuffing the last things in my bags, make my bed, and eat a good meal. 11:00am – I leave for the airport. It’s just over an hour away in good weather, and there is no telling what the roads will be like this time of year. My flight leaves at 2:33pm, so I have to have my bags checked by 1:30pm at the latest. Who says an extra hour of wiggle room isn’t beneficial? 12:30pm At the airport, and printed out my first boarding pass. For some reason they cannot print the next two connecting flights! Oh no! Maybe this means I have to go through security again, if I have to exit the secure area to get them to print my other two. 01:00pm Through security. I’m a terribly nervous flier until I’m through security. Once I’m through security, I can relax until customs. 2:10pm Flight to D.C. boarding. We have to de-ice because it’s so cold and snowy! 5:15pm Meet Alison in D.C.! 6:20pmish Flight to Vienna boarding (Late!). The plane announces that they won’t allow any rolling carry-on baggage in the cabin. WHAT!? So they checked my carry-on bag the rest of the way to Amman. I still don’t know if I’ll be charged for it! 9:15pmish Arrive in Vienna, and this sweet Iraqi lady asks me if I speak Arabic. Well, not really, but it was enough to help her get to her connection. Here, Alison and I met Tierny and Rebecca as well! 10:10pm Flight to Amman, Jordan boarding. Middle East, here I come! 4:35pm Arrive in Amman. Wait… I’m in the Middle East? 4:50pm Alison, Rebecca, Tierny and I are waiting in line for passport control, and an officer sees our American passports. “You’re American? Americans need a visa.” “We have ours!” “Oh! Go over here then…” and we get taken to a really short line. Score! 5:00pm All our baggage arrived. We’re waiting in the “no-claims” customs line, because none of us actually know if we have something to claim so we decided to give it a try. Another officer comes up to us, “Where are you coming from?” “United States.”, “oh, just go.” – no customs for us! So crazy. 5:15pm The CIEE employees meet us, check our names off and hand us a cell phone to call our parents and let them know we’re in. Then we’re off to the hotel! 5:45pm Arrive at hotel. We have to go through security every time we’re entering the hotel. I’m talking x-ray of any bags and metal detectors. How crazy! It’s beautiful though, and we had dinner as a group. We were given cell-phones by CIEE as soon as we entered the hotel. 8:30pm After dinner, we were going to have a “study session”, which lasted for about 15 minutes before two of the year-long students invited us to go to Rainbow Street for a few hours. So we grabbed a cab and headed down. It was good to get to know some of the people! It gets real when you take money out the first time!
Friday, January 17, 2014
Often, people make the mistake of thinking the Middle East is homogeneous. That cannot be further from the truth, so I decided to post some quick information about Jordan. Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Palestine/Israel, Syria, and Iraq. It contains the Dead Sea and Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Amman is the capital city of Jordan. It covers 649 square miles (1,680 km²), with a population of more than 2 million people. Amman has an extensive history – reaching back to biblical times. That being said, it is a very diverse city in the Middle East.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Hello everyone! My name is Amanda. I'm a 21 year old senior at Central Michigan University. I've been studying Political Science:International Relations and Religion. Over the past few years, I've taken an interest in the Middle East, and added Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. With that interest, I've made many friends from across the Middle East and have also begun to learn Arabic. To finish my undergraduate experience with a bang, I've decided to go on a grand adventure. I'm going to study abroad in Amman, Jordan for a semester. I'm extremely nervous, thrilled, happy, worried, confused, scared, and optimistic about this trip. I've heard of great experiences in studying abroad, as well as horror stories. Regardless of the mixed feelings, I'm going. It's my dream. It's what I want. It's going to be an adventure. Note to all of my family and friends: Many of my friends (including my sister!) have studied abroad in European countries or South America. My parents were hesitant about my sister living in Poland for a semester, so you can imagine their reaction when I mentioned going to Jordan. With the help of many friends from the Middle East, a ton of research, and quite a bit of stubbornness, I have their support. My extended family hasn’t been so easily sold on me living close to the wars going on in Syria and other countries, but I am so thankful for everyone’s support, whether monetary or prayers, and trusting in my ability to make choices as a (reasonably) rational adult. I chose Jordan because I wanted to go to an Arabic speaking country to work on my language proficiency. The culture is so much different than in the United States and I’m itching to experience it firsthand. As I prepared my application and learned more about Jordan, I realized that Jordan is pretty central geographically in the Middle East. As I'm starting to plan out my trip, I'm looking at all of the exciting places I can go to. I can travel within Jordan. I'm a hop, skip and a jump away from Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, and even Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates aren't that far. I'm going to live with a host family because one of my main goals in study abroad is culture-sharing. As many of you know, my dream is to help spread cultural tolerance and awareness through research and education so this is an amazing opportunity for me. Academically, I'll be taking two Arabic classes and a seminar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Okay, I'm a nerd, but I'm super excited about that seminar! I applied to the program in September, was accepted in October. I already had my passport from previous travels, and finally applied for my visa in late December. I chose the multiple-entry visa, which is good for six months. It only took two weeks for them to get it back to me, and I'm so excited to go! Keep checking back, I'll post again soon.