"Adjusting to Amman" by Ashley Morrill
Before traveling to Amman, I had very little actual idea of what to expect. I’ve studied formal Arabic for two years, and have had some contact with the culture, but I still felt like I was completely unprepared as I stepped off of the plane in Amman. As I settled in the first week, I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel anywhere near as comfortable and at home as I did in Dublin during the first part of my study abroad experience. When you spend two weeks studying in and exploring a city full of people that speak the same language and dress and think very similarly to you, it can be very jarring to suddenly fly to a city that is the complete polar opposite in terms of weather and very different in terms of culture.
As the days went by during the first week, I found myself worried that I wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to venture out without a large group of my fellow students or the help of my host family. I was worried about being home in time for dinner, or curfew, and about making it to class on time each day. Traffic in Amman is very different and much less predictable than the traffic I had experienced at home, and it made ordering Ubers and taxis a lot more stressful than I initially anticipated. If you asked me after the first or second day how I was feeling, the first word that would have come to mind was “stressed.” How would I make it in a city, in a country really, that didn’t always follow my broken Arabic and where I didn’t completely understand the local unwritten rules?
It all changed for me around the fourth or fifth day when I joined my fellow classmates at Café Shamasy for an evening get-together. Taking the chance to go out and meet up with the people I’d grown to call friends and spend some quality time talking about our experiences and plans for the next few weeks, I finally was able to take a deep breath and look at the city around me. I had successfully navigated taking an Uber by myself earlier in the day, and I had effectively communicated my evening plans to my host family. All of a sudden, I felt like I was figuring things out and I began to feel comfortable in Amman.
Two days after my experience at the café, my classmates and I took a trip to the Dead Sea. I was so excited to finally be able to wear shorts as I’d been sweltering in a heat wave in the city and thought that wearing full-length pants wasn’t helping the situation. Walking through the resort in shorts and not worrying about upsetting anybody made me realize that as much as I felt that I was adjusting to life in Amman, there was still a part of me that missed the level of freedom in dress that I had back home. When I was at the Dead Sea, I didn’t worry about how I was dressed or whether my pant leg had ridden up too high. I thought that when I left the resort, I would have a hard time going back to wearing pants and t-shirts again.
That wasn’t the case, however. Back in Amman the next day, as I decided on what to wear, I thought about my options and I realized that as much as I loved being able to wear shorts at the Dead Sea, I’d already grown used to wearing pants in the heat. When I left the house I didn’t have to worry about bug bites or sunburn, and my legs didn’t stick to the leather seats in the taxis as they would have if my legs weren’t fully covered. As trivial as it sounds now, this settling into the dress code of sorts was a big moment in adjusting to Amman.
Settling in and enjoying Amman and all it had to offer – its people, its culture, its food, everything really – was a process that took most of the time I was there. As I prepared to leave the city and my friends, I realized that I finally felt comfortable and welcome. I don’t have an exact moment that I went from the unnerved tourist to the comfortable student, but I realize now that it happened in stages. It took time for me to confront the expectations that I held onto and to let them go in order to make room for the many amazing, and sometimes not-so-amazing, realities of life in Jordan. I look forward to my next opportunity to travel to the beautiful and welcoming country that is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and to experience the amazing culture that I encountered.