There is one obvious fact universally understood about study abroad students, we study in foreign locations. We fly thousands of miles away from home in the hopes that we will gain a deeper understanding of the world by immersing ourselves in different cultures and perspectives.
Before I left home, this goal was burned into my subconscious. I am going to the Middle East, and I will immerse myself in Jordanian culture so I can try to understand how they view history and current events.
This attitude made me feel as if I would be more observer than a participant in Amman, with a constant awareness of Jordan as “other.”
I am amazed then that there are times where I completely forgot or failed to appreciate the fact that I am in Jordan, one of the most politically charged regions in the world. Besides the surreal understanding that I am currently living 6000 miles away from home in the Middle East, I am also in a country surrounded all around by conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine/Israel.
I blame this on how routinized we became once school starts. Everyday we go to and from Khalifa Plaza where our classes are held without actually exploring Amman. We have time after school, but usually we spend our breaks around the university studying or going to the gym. My program also isolates the Language and Culture program from the rest of University of Jordan (UJ) since almost all of our classes are in the CIEE study center. We do not speak with the Jordanian students on a regular basis.
Then again, every once in a while we are jolted out of our school induced trance to remember that we are in fact in the Middle East. Just yesterday, when my friends and I left our study spot, the American Center of Oriental Research, we saw a man herding a large group of sheep down a main street. My friends and I were struck at the incongruity of so many sheep on UJ’s main street, or essentially this university’s M st. My friend exclaimed, “Guy’s we’re in the Middle East.”
Her shout of, “Guy’s were in the Middle East” really made me stop and process how surreal our stay in Jordan is, a region we discuss constantly at Georgetown, but have never seen. I am here.
This made me more aware of other instances, in which I did not fully appreciate where I am studying.
Just yesterday a child went through my apartment complex holding up a paper in Arabic to anyone who would stop that said he was a Syrian refugee in need of help. I am living so close to the Syrian conflict that I meet refugees like him daily.
Last week, a group of students went to Um Qais, a place where you can see the Golan Heights, Syria, Israel, and Jordan and admired the beauty of such a tumultuous region. When they returned, a girl from that trip found an article that stated approximately 20 Syrian refugees died of starvation at that very border. In a rather twisted way, this contradiction between the beautiful scenery of Um Qais coupled with this Syrian mass starvation made me and other students stop and consider whether we have spent too much time on our academic studies rather than studying the region in person.
We are in the Middle East.
This opportunity has led me to reevaluate my priorities and reconsider whether my grades are more important than exploring Jordan. After all in 20 years will I remember whether I did well on my homework assignments or whether I spent the weekend swimming in the coral reefs of Aqaba or teaching Palestinian refugee children.