I wanted to study Arabic in order to connect with my family, history, religion, and culture. I previously lived and worked in an Arabic-speaking country and wanted to learn Arabic more formally in order to maintain personal and professional relationships.
I went on the CLS (Critical Language Scholarship) Program, an intensive, language study abroad program to Madaba, Jordan. CLS is a Department of State funded program sponsored through the American Councils for International Education. I lived in a home-stay during my two months in Madaba, and my host family became my family. We still keep in touch regularly and text often. Madaba is a small, warm, and very welcoming community, known for its mosaics, museums, and beautifully decorated churches. My cohort and I all became close with each other, our families, and our community. We made strong bonds with our teachers and language partners at the Jordan Language Academy. We had excursions almost every weekend, and during the week as well. For our excursions, we visited so many wonderful places in Jordan! We went to the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum, Mt. Nebo, and many others. In school we studied Modern Standard Arabic, Media Arabic, and dialect.
The CLS Program is fully funded! The program payed for everything. My plane ticket, program, living expenses, visa fees, etc. were all payed for. While I brought extra spending money with me, we also received a stipend for the duration of the summer.
I wish I knew that I may face insensitivities from my cohort. I was prepared to handle different situations that come from group dynamics and even slightly offensive, but well-intended, comments from the host community. However, I didn't realize that some of the more uncomfortable moments would come from my group not understanding my background, or seeing that they had offended me. I wish I would have known this, and also known, that my study abroad experience would be life changing. A few negative people do not define an experience, and these smaller moments didn't take away from the incredible adventures and wonderful friends and family I made while there.
I experienced microaggressions from some of my fellow American travelers. It was a bit hurtful when people would stereotype Black American culture, or make comments they did not quite understand the impact of. I met other Americans abroad that didn't acknowledge me as American because they assumed I was part of the host community. Taxi-drivers would automatically assume I was from a certain country because of the color of my skin. Although I was aware that many of these comments didn't stem from a place of malice, my feelings were hurt at times.
I handled many on these situations by approaching the situation from an honest point of understanding, and asking why people thought what they did. I often explained my point of view or gave examples of my experience in order for others to understand a perspective that they had never come across. People in my host community were very open and interested to learn about Black American culture, and Sudanese culture. I learned that challenging the opinion of others in a respectful manner, and understanding that they may not change their mind relieved me of a lot of pressure. When I let go of trying to convince people, the discussions became easier and the comments bothered me a lot less.
Studying abroad has changed my entire life perspective. I am much more comfortable exploring unchartered waters, and taking an alternative life-path than those around me. I have grown closer to my history and made connections with many new people by studying Arabic. Academically, I have a greatly improved my language skills and I am excited to find another opportunity to study abroad again!
One of my most memorable moments was looking out of my window at 2am, and seeing a beautiful pearl colored mosque in the distance. The hills, the lights, and the stars only added to the breathtaking view. I was in the midst of living everyday life, sitting on my bed with homework and notes, and by simply looking up, I remembered I was in another world. "Wow", I thought to myself, "I'm in Jordan!!"
There was never a day or night when we had nothing to do. We would have dinners or small get-togethers at the homes of our host families, or go out. My group and I went on excursions almost every weekend. During the week we usually went to the gym, met for lunch, explored different places, and hung out, but when we had free time, we also spent it with our host families. On weekends we planned karaoke nights at farms and different group-outings. We explored our host city, Madaba, and traveled around Jordan. We often took a bus or taxi to Amman, the capital, to visit different exciting spots. Amman has an incredible amount of stores and rooftop cafes. Seeing the view, and looking out at the city from the rooftops, were definitely something I will never forget. We also went to Amman for interesting lectures and events. Since my group and I were there during the summer, we were able to attend summer festival concerts. One, was a Nancy Ajram concert hosted in a beautiful roman amphitheater in the ancient city of Jerash. We also loved going to Rainbow street for the cool shops and bazaars. As an ice-cream lover, I truly miss Arabic ice-cream , rose and mystica flavored ice-cream with pistachios. I also miss the taffy-like textured ice-creams and the excitement of being in such a young city, with a lot of students.
Study abroad has helped prepare me for my future by exposing me to a network of incredibly focused, talented, and kind people. The connections I made with my peers, teachers, program officers, and host community will stick with me for a life-time. I was also given the opportunity to challenge my thoughts, perspectives, and opinions. This allowed me to come up with new and different ideas as to how I want to achieve my career goals of combining medicine and humanitarian aid. The CLS program helped me to significantly increase my Arabic language skills, which I will use in my communication with patients and other professionals in my career as a health professional, as well as with family and friends, and future travels.
Yes, participation in the CLS program opened my eyes to a world of enthusiastic and active people aiming to achieve high levels of language acquisition. As a STEM student it exposed me to new ways of merging my interests and offered me comfort, motivation, and excitement in pursuing a life-long dream. Also... it was free! The CLS program truly aimed to help me as an individual, and continued to provided incredible opportunities for me when I returned home.
I believe the most important advice I can give to students, especially underrepresented students, is to believe in yourself and your capabilities without receiving validation from peers or authority figures. Sometimes, people do not know how great you are! I think it's also important to also remain open to suggestions and constructive criticism in order to grow throughout the study abroad experience.
Don't be afraid. Go for it!