Goodbyes, Ramadan, and New Beginnings

Gwen Schaefer, a junior at the University of Kentucky, studied with AMIDEAST’s Intnesive Arabic Program in Amman, Jordan for 2 sessions over the summer of 2011. She is currently continuing her fall semester with the program in Jordan. In this post (originally posted on August 20, 2011), she reflects on the intensity of the summer program, activities around Amman throughout Ramadan, and opportunities throughout Jordan.

Tonight I write from a position of pain, trying not to move too much due to my very burnt legs from yesterday’s great pool adventure with my host family in Madhaba. Granted, I was the stupid one who fell asleep for a long time in the direct sunlight, but that fabulous nap basking in the sunlight was totally worth it! It’s high time that I update my poor, neglected blog and I definitely have a lot to write about tonight. This past month of Ramadan has consisted of an intense flurry of emotions as I have survived yet another finals week, said some very tough goodbyes, made new friends, received exciting news, and prepared for the next stage of my journey.

The second session of my intensive Arabic program was…intense (the program is very aptly named). As some of the first session students left, my class size dwindled and the pressure was on. Although the workload during my first month in Amman was very tough, during the second month I felt as if I had no life outside of the program (hence no new blog posts) because I would wake up early every morning, go to school, come home and nap, eat, finish homework, and then start the cycle all over again. Participating in the summer program was one of my best decisions to date, namely because of the excellent instructors, but by the time finals week came around, I was ready for a break!!

Although I was extremely ready for the summer program to end, I was simultaneously dreading the last day, for with finals came the departure of some very dear friends. I can honestly say I have never met more amazing people than some of the people who entered my life this summer. Not only were my fellow classmates fantastic, but the staff at AMIDEAST and Qasid Institute are incomparable. The AMIDEAST staff was able to attend to any plausible need and went above and beyond their job description to make our experience in Jordan once in a lifetime. Words cannot describe the instructors from Qasid Institute, for you will never meet more patient and kind people. Lord knows teaching Arabic to a bunch of college kids is anything but easy! It therefore comes as no surprise to me that Qasid is ranked as one of the top Arabic institutes in the entire MENA region. Throughout the past months I was very blessed to make some very profound friendships, some of which will  surely last in the years to come. With them I have spent countless hours laughing hysterically, discussing cultural frustrations,singing obnoxiously, dreaming about random food (BLTs!), destroying the beauty of the Arab language by attempting to speak Arabic, watching too many YouTube videos, and just being plain goofy. For some strange reason, almost every single guy in the program was a skilled guitar player, so therefore we had daily sing-a-longs in the student lounge to any song from Backstreet Boys to Guns N’Roses to a Justin Beiber/ Rebecca mash-up of “Baby” and “Friday” (Note: this creation should NEVER have happened!). Needless to say, my last night with this fabulous group of people was one of the saddest to date.

Immediately after the second session ended and my friends were whisked away, I expected to be moping around in solitude, but as fate would have it, that would hardly be the case. Thanks to the wonderful Lauren Kardos, I was  unexpectedly connected to a distinguished professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Jordan, who then offered me a position as his research assistant during my stay in Jordan. Needless to say, I was ecstatic! The work can be demanding at times, but the benefits far exceed the negative aspects. I truly look forward to what this position has to offer throughout the rest of my time here.

The craziest twist of fate, however, was an email I received a few weeks ago involving this blog. I opened my mailbox one day only to find an email from a Jordanian detailing how he went to the University of Kentucky but was spending his summer break in Amman with his family. He wrote that he randomly came across my blog after someone had posted a link to it on their Facebook. After some correspondence, we realized that we, in fact, had met before and shared a geography class together at UK, in which he spent quite some time trying to convince me to study in Jordan rather than in Egypt or elsewhere. Oh, the irony!! Never in a million years would I have expected to have ended up in Jordan, let alone becoming good friends with him in  Amman. Fate is a very funny thing, it turns out. Throughout this past week, I have been fully welcomed into a number of households and it never ceases to amaze me the profound hospitality and generosity of all Jordanians. One of the many reasons why my love for this country continues to grow more every day.

As I mentioned previously, it is currently the month of Ramadan and this time has provided ample learning opportunities throughout the past three weeks. For those of you who don’t know, the Islamic month of Ramadan is a time in which Muslims all over the world abstain from both food and drink from sunrise to sunset (Yes, this includes water). In addition to food and drink, Muslims also abstain from smoking and sexual activity and spend more than the usual 5 times a day praying. In fact, by the time Ramadan draws to a close, the entire Qur’an has been recited. I have not been fasting due to the fact that I live with a Christian family who wouldn’t understand my interest in fasting. However, I have had plenty of time for observations. It is particularly interesting to note that in Jordan it is actually illegal to be publicly be seen eating/drinking/smoking, etc. Therefore, almost all restaurants are closed during the daytime with the exception of a few places that can only serve food for take-away. Also, it is prohibited for any places to sell alcohol unless it has a special permit identifying it as a registered tourist location. And trust me, those places are few and far in between. Once the sun goes down, Amman comes alive. It has been so much fun to go out at night during Ramadan, as all the shops are bustling with customers, everyone is in a great mood, and sound of fireworks can always be heard.

As the summer draws to a close, I am very sad to think of my friends that have left me and how insanely fast time is flying by. Before I know it, I myself will be boarding a plane to return home to Kentucky (Ah! Scary thoughts!). However, I know that these upcoming four months will undoubtedly be the most exciting yet, especially as this Wednesday, I am flying to Istanbul and making a childhood dream come. Pictures and a new blog post to undoubtedly follow 🙂

Here’s some pictures from this past month:

Session 2 students with Program Manager, Hala

Bowling NIght at the Kempinski

Gwen and Ustaza (Professor) Bayan

View from Ajloun Castle, in northern JordanEntrance to Jerash



Filed under Host Family, Jordan, Ramadan

2 responses to “Goodbyes, Ramadan, and New Beginnings

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