Alecia Hlebechuk, a student in Art and Design and Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, participated in two AMIDEAST programs in the summer of 2012. During the first half of the summer, she took colloquial Egyptian Arabic and held a local internship in AMIDEAST’s Learn & Serve program in Cairo, Egypt. Following this experience, she traveled to Amman, Jordan to complete one 4-week session with AMIDEAST’s Intensive Arabic program. Below is Alecia’s submission of a photo essay on her adventures and observations.
I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Learn and Serve program in Egypt this past summer. My favorite non-classroom related elements were the cultural immersion activities incorporated into our schedules. We attended everything from a large concert featuring a popular Egyptian rock band, to tours of communities that made their living from collecting recyclable materials. These cultural exposures strongly impacted the way we experienced more touristic activities as well. It’s really something special to be able to stand side-by-side with Egyptian tourists at sites like Fort Qaitbay and consider how their modern values and concerns impact their experiences and compare those to our own. Eventually we all stopped asking everyone we met if they’d been to the pyramids, because we realized it made about as much sense as asking every American if they’ve been to D.C.
I was also fortunate enough this summer to have studied Intensive Arabic in Jordan after leaving Egypt. On evenings designated as study-breaks a favorite pass-time was wandering the streets of downtown Amman, which was a learning experience in itself. Where as the Western media would have us believe that women in this region of the world are restricted in what they can and can’t wear, a walk through the souq would offer quite a different perspective. Perhaps women were not wearing flashy or revealing clothing in the streets, but there is obviously a market demand, and one that defies conventional stereotypes. The important thing to realize is that modesty and the separation of public and private are both highly valued in these cultures. The ability to walk down the street and see those values in practice and how they conflict with previously instilled, inaccurate representations is an invaluable learning opportunity.
I was able to study Formal Arabic and the Egyptian and Jordanian dialects this summer with great groups of friends. It was very encouraging to go out with a group of students to explore on our own when we were all at different levels. What was even better were the excited and curious responses we generated as a group of foreign students wanting to learn Arabic. Whether asking for directions or honing our bargaining skills, we were always met with enthusiasm and kindness in Amman.