Memories of Jordan

Sharon Hoeck, of American University, studied abroad in Jordan a year ago, in the summer of 2014. Here are some of the places in Jordan that left the biggest impression on her.

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

One of the first things that struck me about Amman is the juxtaposition of old and new. I took this picture in the Temple of Hercules at the Citadel—in a place that has been continuously occupied since the Neolithic Period—to remind myself of the civilizations on which our modern world stands. This column has seen thousands of years of history and continues to stand over a city of cell phones, satellite dishes, and honking cars.

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum brought more adventures outside Amman: climbing up rock formations to find a rare spring in the desert, setting off fireworks after dark to celebrate the 4th of July, sleeping under the Milky Way, and a pre-dawn hike to watch one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. The quiet of the Wadi at sunrise drew a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city, leaving each one of us with our own thoughts to witness the reds, blues, purples, and oranges of the sun painting the desert.

Ajloun Nature Reserve

Ajloun Nature Reserve

For the Eid al-Fitr vacation, eight of us went camping in the Ajloun Nature Reserve. Four days of my friend cooking gourmet meals over a coal-fire camp stove and listening to the wolves howl at night culminated in a six-hour hike that four of us undertook. Halfway through, after eating our fill of wild figs and pomegranates, we rested in the shade of an olive tree and looked over the valley we had just traversed.

Arabic Carving

Arabic Carving

All the travel and trips aside, most of my time was spent studying this ancient language. With the help of my classmates, my teachers, and my host family, I was able to make gains beyond anything I expected. Although I was frustrated at times because of vocabulary words that slipped my mind after hours of study, the complexity and beauty of the language only increased my love for it and for this country.

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Filed under 2014, Education Abroad, Jordan

Big Things and Football

While abroad during the summer 2014 semester in Morocco, the grand size of the country’s sites impressed Mitchell Oeler, of Duquesne University. But Mitchell found personal connections when discovering American football on the beach.

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

The first weekend in Rabat, a few of my friends and I made the trip down to Casablanca. After a fun Friday night on Avenue de la Corniche, we woke up Saturday and took a walk to see Hassan II Mosque. It was easily one of the largest things I had ever seen! (That little man in the grey shirt is me; needless to say, I felt tiny.) When we tried to go inside for visiting hours, we were turned away because, as it turned out, the King of Serbia was visiting that day!

Cascade d’Akchour

Cascade d’Akchour

In keeping with the theme of things bigger than me, this one is of Cascade d’Akchour in the Rif Mountains near Chefchaouen. After hiking for 2 ½ hours, we were presented with this awesome sight! Of course after a long hike nothing sounds better than jumping in the cool mountain water, so with very little forethought we all hopped in. How I didn’t come out with hypothermia is still a mystery to me, but nevertheless the Cascade was one of my favorite things in Morocco.

New friends made playing American football.

New friends made playing American football.

My roommate and I ran into this bunch on the Rabat beach playing football. American football. Wait, WHAT?? We went over to talk to them, using our best Darija of course. After a little chuckle, one of the players introduced himself in perfect English as Medhi. He and his friends are trying to get American football more popularity in Morocco by forming a league. After a pretty intense game (which we won), we rinsed the sand out of our mouths and took a team photo! They were a great group of guys, and I hope their league keeps on growing.

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Filed under 2014, Morocco, Summer

Why I (Still) Live in Morocco

Eleanor Easton, originally from University of Chicago, studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University in the fall of 2012. Three years later she decided she wasn’t done with Morocco, so she made Casablanca her home.

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Looking out across Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca is a big, sprawling, and complicated city.  Sometimes the stoplights and walk signs don’t match up, sometimes simple tasks take hours to complete, and sometimes the garbage collector doesn’t come for weeks.  But it also has some hidden gems: organic fruit stands on every street with the sweetest fruits I’ve ever tasted, markets tucked into corners of the city, waiting to be found and explored, and incredible diversity of language, culture, and history.  There is always something new to discover or somewhere new to explore.

Nearly three years ago, I decided to apply for AMIDEAST’s direct enrollment program at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.  I chose the program because I wanted to be an exchange student at a university instead of traveling with a group of Americans.  I thought I would learn more from being in a situation where I couldn’t easily rely on what I already knew.  But the greatest benefit of choosing this sort of program was not just that I was able to experience life as a student in Morocco, but also that those I met during the program were people who lived semi-permanently in Morocco, and so are still here.  After I finished my program with AMIDEAST, I returned to the U.S. just long enough to graduate from my university, and then came right back to Morocco.  I started teaching English at AMIDEAST in Casablanca this fall, after a year of teaching at an American school, also in Casablanca.  I am lucky to have old friends from my semester in Ifrane as well as new friends from my job in Casablanca.

Although there are moments when I feel like my classes are as chaotic as Casablanca at rush hour, teaching is one of the best ways to feel connected to Moroccan culture.  I teach several different classes, and each one has to be approached totally differently.  In my morning class, my students speak Arabic more fluently than French, so sometimes they teach me words in Arabic while I teach them English.  In my children’s classes, most students prefer to speak French.  In my business classes, I sometimes learn from adult students about their jobs and the companies they work for.  I have students who are studying English so that they can live outside of Morocco, and I have students who are studying so that they can find their dream jobs without leaving Casablanca.  Even though I am no longer in Morocco as a student, I feel like I am always learning something new.

Life in Casablanca is totally different from life in Ifrane; Ifrane is quiet, clean, and friendly, while Casa has too much traffic, too few trashcans, and not enough stop lights for its many busy intersections.  But my time as an exchange student in Ifrane prepared me in many ways for life in Casablanca, despite how different it was.  When I returned to Morocco as a teacher instead of a student, I felt that I was continuing something I had already started.  And now it’s not just a place I live for the duration of a program; it’s my home.

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Filed under 2012, Morocco

Religion, Art, and Books in Jordan

Summer 2014 brought Mark Hoover exploration and surprises in Amman, Jordan. Coming from the University of Pennsylvania, Mark discovered a new perspective on religion, historical art, and which books to add to his personal library.

St. George / Al-Khader Church

Inside St. George / Al-Khader Church

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Al-Khader Church Sign in English and Arabic

When I announced to my host family that after visiting the place where Jesus was baptized I would visit the town of Salt, I received an interesting assignment. I was to burn a candle in the church of Kidr (Moses’ mentor in the Quran) there and say a prayer for them. Strange, a Muslim family was asking me to burn a candle (a Christian practice) in a Christian church dedicated to a Muslim figure. I knew that Middle Eastern Muslims often conflate Kidr with St. George, and had even heard stories of Muslims showing up at festivities in churches on St. George’s day in Syria. I assumed that something similar was going on.

It was, only more intensely. In the story I had heard from Syria, the priests officiating the St. George day celebrations were somewhat bemused by the Muslims showing up, thinking that Kidr was the focus of the day. In Salt the clergy clearly went a step further and used the Muslim conflation of the two to their advantage. While the iconography in the church clearly indicated that it was dedicated to St. George, the sign advertised it as “Al-Khadr Church” in both English and Arabic. Either it was an instance of shrewd taking advantage of (harmless) inter-religious misunderstanding, or of syncretism, the Christians of Salt absorbing the Muslim conflation of St. George and Kidr till it became part of their own Christian veneration. It was an interesting experience nonetheless.

Fresco scene in Azraq

Fresco scene in Azraq

During the Eid al-Fitr break, a classmate and I went to visit Azraq, an oasis in the Jordanian desert known for the old “castles” around it. The last of these we visited was actually a Roman-style bath house for one of the ‘Umayyad Caliphs in Damascus. Its interior was completely covered in frescoes like the one pictured. Clearly the Caliph had a rather sensual artistic taste when bathing in the middle of the desert. Fresco scenes much more salacious than the one shown imply that they themselves were only depictions of what he himself got up to there.

The most interesting thing about the frescos was how un-Arab they were. Sometimes the tell-tale Arabic script remained, but apart from that everything about them was Byzantine. I had read before that when the Arabs conquered the Middle East, they brought no artistic culture with them, and thus, before they developed one of their own, informed by Islamic values, they simply adopted the art of their subjects. The frescos were a powerful real-life demonstration of this.

Books acquired in Jordan

Books acquired in Jordan

This picture shows my collection of Arabic books at the end of my stay in Jordan. Apart from the Bible (the big blue one in the middle), I acquired all of them in Jordan.

My book buying spree started small with the purchase of the books lying horizontally: a Quran, a medieval Arabic equivalent to Aesop’s Fables, and Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah (the tiny book vertically next to these is a miniature Quran the shop owner gave me as a present when purchasing those three).

I received the small blue book as a present by the pastor of the church I attended in Jordan. It was written by the pastor of the church I attended back when I lived in Lebanon. Small world.

That would have been it, but then my host father mentioned a poem, the Alafiyeh Ibn Malik, which described the rules of Arabic grammar and which religious scholars had to memorize. Of course I needed to buy it too (it’s the small pink one next to the miniature Quran), and with it I bought a commentary on it (second from the left) and another work of similar stature (the third from left).

In the last two days, my teachers mentioned two books I “needed” to have. This time an important collection of hadith (first from the left) and the some pre-Islamic poetry (fourth from the left) were my target. While I was there, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn (a short Quran commentary, fifth from the left) found its way into my possession as well.

This spree of book-buying, which make packing on the return journey much harder, was a wonderful excursion into the world of Arabic classics. Now I just need to read them.

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Filed under 2014, Jordan

Photo Journey Through a Fall in Morocco

Kristin Licciardell’s time away from Rutgers University on the Morocco Area & Arabic Language Studies fall 2014 program was well documented through the lens of her camera. Here are her favorite moments from four months abroad.

Kristin Licciardello

Jumping Off the Edge

Jumping off the Edge:

Taken along the river separating the city of Rabat from neighboring Sale, this location is a hot spot for locals and travellers alike. The river is lined with cafes, a small amusement park for children, and small boats that take people from one side to another. On a casual afternoon walk, I spotted a group of young boys jumping off the sidewalk edge. I tried to sneak a shot without them noticing, but they quickly recognized the foreigner with a camera and began doing stylish jumps and flips to show off. I have noticed that cliff jumping is a popular activity for young boys throughout many Moroccan beach towns. A Moroccan friend of mine in El Jadida (one of the best places to jump, because of the old Portuguese fort walls) pointed out to me that there are often separate levels of jumping— the higher the jumper, the higher the level. The older boys like to jump from the highest levels, while the younger boys jump off lower levels.

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Filed under Adventure, Beauty, Education Abroad, Morocco, Photography

Reflecting on Morocco – Fall 2014

A student of Cross-Cultural Justice at American University in Washington, D.C., Lucette Moran recently returned from her Fall 2014 AMIDEAST program in Morocco. Participating on the Area & Arabic Language Studies Program, Lucette shares some of her favorite moments of Morocco.

Mo_1_Lucette Moran

Rabat, Morocco

This picture was taken at sunset during my first few weeks in Rabat. Living in Hay L’Ocean, I was able to stroll along the beach after classes with enough time before dark, and I tried to take advantage of it throughout the warmer weather. The power of the change of tides on the rocky coast of Rabat will be forever seared into my memory, even back on the east coast of the United States, staring back at the endless Atlantic Ocean.

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Filed under Host Family, Morocco

Unexpected Surprises – Summer Intensive Arabic Program in Oman

In our Summer 2014 Intensive Arabic Program, scholarship winner, Taylor Mosely, had an amazing experience.  Taylor, a student from Vassar University, found that she not only improved her Arabic language skills significantly, but also learned a great deal about the region and Omani culture in general.  She outlines the highlights of her experience on our program in her end of semester essay.  All photo credit goes to Taylor Mosely.

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Before I made my journey to Muscat, Oman in the summer of 2014, I sat down and contemplated the reasons why I wanted to study Arabic. I came to the conclusion that my home institution, Vassar College, has indeed opened my mind and given me the tools to constructively think about the society I live in. I believed, however, that there was so much more for me to learn that could not be taught on campus. I realized that as an International Studies major, it was imperative that I study abroad. I was highly interested in learning the Arabic language outside of the United States because it would expose me to a whole new world. I was also excited to get an intimate view of culture outside of my own. For me, the possibility of studying Arabic in a foreign country was energizing because I deeply wanted to become familiar with the Middle Eastern region on a personal level. All things considered, I thought that studying abroad would expand my personal horizons, strengthen my language skills and deepen my understanding of the Arab history and culture.

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Filed under Adventure, Arabic, Oman, Photography