The Argus recently spoke to Ellie Rosen ’24 and Emma Condon ’24, who spent the Fall 2022 semester abroad in Amman, Jordan. Rosen and Condon studied with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE)—one of the many pre-approved programs that partner with Wesleyan to provide students a variety of cultural exchange opportunities. With a focus on Middle Eastern Studies, their program gave them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local community and improve their Arabic language skills.
Both Rosen and Condon shared an interest in the Middle East long before they decided to study in Amman.
“It started with an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and then evolved [into] the politics, religion, culture of the region in general,” Rosen said.
For Condon, hearing about her aunt’s travels in the Middle East as a reporter for ABC News sparked her interest in the region.
“She spent a lot of time [in] Palestine,” Condon said. “She [would always] talk about the conflict and culture of the Middle East, and that led me to become a Middle Eastern studies minor.”
The CIEE program, the only Wesleyan opportunity offered in the Middle East, was the ideal choice for the two students who are both minoring in Middle Eastern Studies at Wesleyan.
After making their return to campus this semester, Rosen and Condon reflected on their time in Amman and the lessons they learned abroad that they hope to carry with them in their lives at Wesleyan and beyond.
Like most study abroad programs, the application process for the CIEE required both a cover letter and a program-specific application.
“We just had to write 500 words [of] a little explanation of why we wanted to come to Jordan specifically and what we hoped to learn,” Condon said. “We just had to get approval through Wesleyan [so it] wasn’t that intense of a process…. It felt like pretty much whoever applied would have a good chance of getting [in].”
While the program did not have a language requirement, the University did—a standard prerequisite for most language immersion programs the University offers.
“Because Wesleyan required me to have some Arabic [experience], I was roughly [at] the same [level of proficiency] as the other people in the program,” said Rosen.
Before coming to Jordan, Rosen and Condon both felt nervous about navigating an entirely new culture. Nevertheless, they emphasized that something as simple as acknowledging and expecting change made them more prepared to face it.
“I was definitely very nervous about how different the culture would be and how much of a shock that would be to the system,” Condon said.
Condon and Rosen both agreed that their expectations quickly changed once they arrived and settled into life in Jordan.
“I didn’t experience nearly as much culture shock as I thought,” Rosen said. “I think I was preparing myself for Amman to be a lot more different [from] an American city than it was.”
Nonetheless, according to Condon and Rosen, some aspects of life differed greatly in Jordan. From severe water crises to unfamiliar cultural norms, they agreed that one should anticipate lifestyle differences when coming to live in Jordan. For instance, one week, Rosen and Condon found themselves without running water due to a government water crisis.
Another surprising part of Jordanian life that someone might not expect to be different, the pair said, was Uber and taxi etiquette; a whole set of norms governs car-ride behavior in Jordan.
“Our head program gave us a list of cultural norms that we should be aware of,” Condon said. “For example, when you sit in the Uber, if you’re just by yourself as a woman, you can only sit in the back of the Uber and you [should] sit diagonally from the driver.”
From exciting electives to frisbee competitions, Condon and Rosen had many opportunities to be involved in various facets of life in Amman. The pair’s day-to-day routines during the Sunday-through-Thursday school week were filled with frequent class sessions and café visits.
“I am lucky my classes started on the later side, so 10:30 or 11,” Rosen said. “So I would wake up [and] if I was feeling motivated, I’d do 30 minutes to an hour of work before I’d leave.”
Both students emphasized that Amman was not very pedestrian-friendly, so getting to class every day required a car ride.
“If you live in a place like New York or a major city that you really feel like you can walk around in, [Amman is very different],” Condon said.
Rosen agreed that relying on a car to get around eventually became frustrating.
“One of the hardest things about being there for me is that you have to Uber everywhere,” Rosen said. “We [would] Uber to the center from our apartment [to class], which is roughly half an hour.”
After classes let out for the day, Rosen and Condon took advantage of Amman’s many sites and attractions.
“If I go home, I don’t actually like staying home,” Rosen said. “I’d go out to a café. Café culture is huge there. I [joined] one of Jordan’s two ultimate Frisbee teams, so I’d have Frisbee practice, which is always fun.”
Condon’s free time was filled with music and concerts.
“We [would] go to a lot of concerts because one of our friends [was in] a band,” Rosen said. “He’s not like a founding member of this band, but he was brought into a band here called Tarneeb. We went to a bunch of concerts at the Roman Amphitheater, which is in the center of the city which was really cool.”
The Middle East is home to many Arabic dialects; its two main dialects are Fuṣḥā and Ammiya. For Condon and Rosen, Arabic classes essentially consisted of studying the two separate languages.
“There’s two different types of Arabic,” Rosen said. “I [started] learning Fuṣḥā, which is Modern Standard Arabic, which nobody speaks, but everyone learns. I also [began] learn[ing] Ammiya, which is what everybody speaks.”
While Arabic is tot an easy language to master, both students agreed that their language kills significantly improved during their time in Jordan.
“I think my Fuṣḥā has definitely gotten better,” Rosen said. “I had zero Ammiya going in because at Wesleyan we only do Modern Standard Arabic or Fuṣḥā,” Rosen said. “I went in not knowing any Ammiya and now I speak more Ammiya than I do Fuṣḥā. So it’s definitely gotten a lot better. Give me a taxi ride, [and] I’ll be able to bargain.”
The classes that the students took were offered through the CIEE program. Classes ranged from Arabic lessons to international relations electives in order to account for the broad range of student interests.
“They [CIEE] provide all the teachers and bring in special professors to teach us our elective courses,” Condon said. “The Arabic teachers here are just incredible. They really know what they’re doing in a way that I really respond well to.”
According to both Condon and Rosen, the classes were not extraneously rigorous, allowing the pair to spend more time exploring Jordan and its culture.
“I would say the workload is very manageable,” Condon said. “We [didn’t] have that many assignments throughout the semester. We just [had] one major assignment then a midterm and a final.”
Despite the relaxed academic rigor of the program, Condon and Rosen explained that studying abroad was rewarding nonetheless.
“The program really prioritized the fact that you’re here to have a bunch of experiences and not just be cooped up in your apartment studying all the time,” Condon said.
For the Amman program, students chose between living with a host family or in apartments provided by CIEE.
“I chose to live in an apartment for a number of reasons,” Condon said. “I feel like living in an apartment with other people from the program immediately makes those people closer, and it gives you more opportunity to socialize.”
Though choosing a housing option was easy for Condon, apartment living came with some challenges.
“I didn’t have WiFi in my apartment,” Rosen said. “Access to the internet might be one of the main challenges and just being able to communicate with people in general.”
The CIEE program also plans trips in different parts of Jordan like deserts and nearby cities.
“We went on a few group trips,” Condon said. “We went to Petra and Wadi Rum. We stayed overnight in this quasi-campsite situation — you have never seen stars so bright and visible in your life.”
Rosen, as a part of her Ultimate Frisbee team, got to travel for tournaments as well.
“I was in Saudi Arabia for the Middle Eastern North Africa Club Ultimate Championships, which was awesome,” Rosen said.
Both Rosen and Condon stressed that keeping an open mind is essential to studying abroad.
“Things are going to be very different,” Rosen said. “Sometimes that can be a good different. Sometimes that can be a bad different. I think the most important thing is [that] you just embrace those differences, and you really jump into trying new things, trying new foods, and going [to] new places.”
Condon emphasized the importance of being aware of the environment that one is entering before arriving, both in terms of cultural and educational expectations.
“It’s not always easy and it can be frustrating and you definitely will experience culture shock and you can be tired,” Condon said. “Educating yourself beforehand [is important] so it doesn’t just feel completely shocking.”
Overall, both students said they found their time in Amman to be transformative.
“It’s still one of the coolest study abroad experiences I think you could have,” Condon said.
Eugenia Shakhnovskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jo Harkless can be reached at email@example.com.