Since returning home, everyone has been asking me “How was study abroad?”
During our reflection session at the Dead Sea, our program talked as a whole about how to answer this question. We want to say something more than “it was good.” Instead, we want to seize the opportunity to share something relevant about our experience: about the lessons we learned, the people we met, and the country we tried to immerse ourselves in. I settled on the expression “I learned a lot.” While fairly general, whenever I say “I learned a lot” people are compelled to ask me what I learned. And that’s when I get to share.
Throughout my study abroad experience, I learned the most from my home stay and host family. They taught me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. At first, I felt uncomfortable in my home stay because I was so unsure of my surroundings. Everywhere I looked there would an unfamiliar language, unfamiliar people, and unfamiliar food. At first, it felt awkward and would make me homesick for my own house and family. With time though, I learned to embrace feeling uncomfortable. It would prove to be the best lesson I learned in all of Jordan.
Learning to embrace your own discomfort is elemental in another country. It turns every day into a learning opportunity or a unique moment. Instead of missing American food, I would try to learn the name of the Jordanian dish I was eating. Instead of missing Coloradan Mountains, I would marvel at the beauty of Amman and the desert. My host family taught me how to live in the moment and appreciate being uncomfortable because it meant something new, different, and special is occurring.
Another important lesson I learned abroad was about being proud of small successes. I’ve often discussed my struggles with Arabic. While it’s certainly possible to survive in Jordan with English, I wanted to do more than just ‘get by’ for 4 months. I wanted to learn as much Arabic as possible and to actually use it with Jordanians. This was a big challenge. Especially starting from the ground up in January with the alphabet. Forcing myself to use Arabic everyday with my host family, cab drivers, and shop owners, taught me to delight in small successes. As a college student, I’ve never faced a challenge or goal that will take years to accomplish. Trying to learn Arabic is my first attempt at a lifelong goal and I’m grateful to Jordan for giving me the right approach and optimistic attitude when faced with overwhelming challenges.
However, it wasn’t until that I returned to the US that I realized another important lesson. Living in Jordan taught me to appreciate the US more than I have had before. I talked once about the environmental conditions of Jordan where water is a precious resource. Different reports place Jordan as the third most water scarce country in the world. Coming home, the first thing I did was take a very long shower. While it felt amazing, it also highlighted my privilege in the US. I also have a greater appreciation for the small comforts of home. Pancakes and pork bacon was a wonderful luxury my first day back!
Altogether, I learned too many lessons than I could describe in this blog entry. In fact, I expect to learn more lessons from Jordan as I acclimate back to the US and recognize the small and big differences. From my Amideast courses to my daily Arabic use, living in Jordan taught me more than I ever anticipated. I now view the MENA region more personally and the US more critically having lived in both. How I approach uncomfortable situations and overwhelming challenges has completely changed due to my time in Jordan. I know I will take these lessons with me in my future travels, my last year of college, and my future career.