"Breaking Down Barriers & Stereotypes" by Olivia Zachman
Upon first arriving in Jordan, I was hyperaware of my actions, trying not to break any cultural norms or reinforce any stereotypes. I was immediately placed with and had the privilege of living with a Jordanian host family, learning about Jordan through their lived experiences, advice, stories and discussions. The first characteristic of Jordan I noticed was the hospitality. Between my host family and random daily interactions, the kindness and selflessness particularly stood out to me. When I was lost after mistakenly giving the wrong address to the taxi driver, on a guided hike with other Jordanians, or sitting in a cafe by myself, I was always offered help and kindly engaged.
Attending classes at AMIDEAST was an incredibly rewarding experience. The Arabic professors were so kind, patient and willing to give their free time to help us improve our language skills. Though our games became very competitive, it was beneficial to see the passion for improvement lively among both the students and professors. Our content courses were just as incredible. I learned about the diverse subjects of art, history, non-governmental institutions and society within Jordan. Learning about life through a Jordanian perspective was essential in opening my mind to different views on life. Through art I’ve experienced an enlightened view of the natural world and beauty of geometry, through history I learned that there are many sides and stories to history and that each voice deserves to be heard, through learning about the public and private sectors of society I better understand the complexity of interactions between the public, institutions and the government.
Having the opportunity to go on excursions was one of the most exciting parts of the program. We had the chance to visit Petra, Wadi Rum, Ajloun, Jerash, Madaba, Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea, all of which were more beautiful and stunning than I could have imagined. I also visited other parts of Jordan with my newly made friends such as Salt, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, museums, parks, and hidden gems like cafes with incredible views. Life in Amman was a lovely experience, but getting to see other areas of the country was beneficial in creating a well-rounded experience. It was at these places, both inside and outside of Amman, where I met truly wonderful Jordanian friends that will remain in my life for a long time. While we have differences in our lives, I found so many unexpected commonalities and shared sentiments and thoughts about life with these individuals who I’m lucky to call friends.
Once I had finally settled in to the city life, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as an intern for Reclaim Childhood, an organization that empowers young, particularly refugee women, through sports. Upon first meeting the director and the other interns, I immediately felt a sense of genuine passion for the organization and care for one another. Each week interns are given tasks of research or assorted assignments relating to the organization which we reported on at the meetings. These reports helped the group to better understand the circumstances of the girls we were working with and provided policies to better improve the experiences of the girls. The support and genuine care that was expressed in the meetings was a small portion of what the organization represents. The most rewarding part of interning was attending practices. Though there was often a language barrier, the girls found ways to communicate with me and my limited colloquial Arabic. The energy you felt when you were around these girls was truly motivating.
Cultural immersion is difficult and understanding the societal and political climate of Jordan is even more challenging. Studying abroad has aided me in breaking down mental barriers and stereotypes as I continue learning about the individuals and country as a whole. Studying abroad in Jordan has truly changed my life and motivated me to continue learning about countries with different cultures and languages than my own. We have so much to learn about the world, I encourage everyone who has the opportunity to take advantage of it to travel, learn, and grow as a person.