Written by Anna Horton (University of Michigan), Student Correspondent CET Jordan Summer 2019
It’s impossible to avoid the kind of stress that living in a foreign country brings. Unlike challenges you can face head-on, it’s the little things that cause the greatest bewilderment – the everyday missions of finding food, transportation, and somewhere to pee. The coordinators at CET Jordan do a great job of helping us students settle in, whether by providing us with furnished housing or by repeating for the hundredth time that they can answer our questions, no matter how small or mundane (if you study nothing else before you come, learn how to say “shukraan” – Arabic for “thank you”).
But regardless of how hard your new CET friends work, there are some things they won’t be able to soften for you. This isn’t a problem, so long as you’re willing to recognize something they’ll repeatedly tell you: you aren’t in (insert home state/country) anymore.
Seems simple, no? You didn’t come here to zone out on Snapchat between classes or spend your evenings immersed in your favorite TV show. You came here to learn, to express yourself in a new language, maybe work in a completely new field. But the problem is, once that 1-2-week honeymoon phase is over, that’s probably what you’re going to want to do. And because you’re living with a bunch of foreigners, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to commiserate about cultural differences that used to seem cool and interesting.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to dampen your enthusiasm. Although I’ve only been in Amman for two weeks, I’m deeply in love with this place and doubt I’ll get over my infatuation with Arabic anytime soon. That said, I’ve traveled enough to know that culture shock isn’t necessarily a slap in the face. If left to fester, it can easily become resentment that not only alienates you from locals, but spreads misconceptions about whatever culture you represent.
So, here a few tips (in no particular order) to keep in mind that might help you blame that so-called “shock” less on the culture or country than on the fact that you aren’t in Kansas anymore and this program is tough. If nothing else, I hope they help you find a balance between cutting yourself some slack and demanding personal growth.
1. You’re probably going to get sick.
I’m still waiting for this particular shoe to drop, but almost everyone I know has had a few days of queasiness. Both traveling and shifting to a new, delicious diet (read: falafel, hummus, shawarma…) take a toll on your stomach, so don’t be surprised if you spend the anywhere from a day to a week shuffling between your apartment and the hospital (yes, it’s culturally necessary to visit the hospital for chronic nausea, and I have on good authority that they’re extremely nice!)
2. You need to pack nice clothes.
Students flaunt their fashion at the University of Jordan, which means you’ll probably be more comfortable in business casual than sweats and a t-shirt. Also, because it’s so hot, you’ll need to be strategic with your clothing choices. Light, flowing materials trump jeans every time, and sunglasses are an absolute must.
3. Jordanian culture is probably more teacher-centric than you’re used to.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because your teacher likes you, she won’t mind if you’re late to class. From my experience so far, professors here are more than willing to help, but their expectation is that you’ll eat, sleep, and breathe Arabic in return. They’re also extremely direct and won’t tolerate bad attitudes in class. If you’re hoping for a laid-back program where you can slack off on the weekends, look elsewhere.
4. Keeping the language pledge is hard, but worth it.
Duh, right? People have already written excellent blogs about this, so I won’t go into it much here, but keep in mind that by forcing yourself to speak in Arabic, you’re doing what every international student does when they study in the U.S. Sure, it’s difficult to be unable to express yourself beyond the fact that you like movies and spend your free time with your friends, but that’s normal. Start simple; even after two weeks, I’m already seeing improvement in my speaking, and who doesn’t love the chance to use a little Arabic slang?
5. You’re going to have to give up some control.
I’ll say it again: your CET program directors do their best to keep you happy, healthy, and well-aware of your schedule, but something unexpected will happen. Maybe your stove won’t work, or you won’t get your student ID card as soon as you’d expected. Maybe you won’t hear back about your internship placement right away. Regardless, there will be plenty of times when it’s a struggle to bridge the gap between your strict school schedule and the fluid political and social environment, so let go of the reigns a bit. Never be afraid to ask questions, but don’t be surprised if the responses don’t come as quickly or as clearly as you’d like.
6. You’re going to meet some of the kindest people in the world.
My fellow students and I were warned at the beginning of the program that Jordanians aren’t very smiley. Unlike the U.S. Midwest where I’m from, it’s weird to walk around with a grin on your face or to greet people you don’t know. At the same time, pretty much everyone I’ve met has been extremely hospitable and forgiving of my painfully slow Arabic, from the WWE-loving taxi driver to the shop owner across the street from my apartment building. Likewise, you’ll probably be invited to multiple homes for more meals than you can stomach – a nice problem to have in a completely new country! Overall, a willingness to assume good intentions, even when you’re tired of getting honked at for the umpteenth time, is essential. Your roommate and language partner truly are your best resources while you’re here, so don’t be afraid to ask them to help you meet as many people as possible!